Natural Grass Field Approved for Pierson

Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves (right) watches as votes were counted Wednesday night. Christine Sampson photo.
Reg Cornelia, a Suffolk County Board of Elections official, and Sag Harbor district clerk Carol Dray retrieve results from a voting machine Wednesday night in Pierson’s gymnasium. Christine Sampson photo.

By Christine Sampson

Voters in the Sag Harbor School District on Wednesday passed the district’s $1.59 million natural grass athletic field proposition with 86-percent voter approval.

The 458 to 73 result, which included 35 absentee ballots in favor of the measure and 12 opposed to the proposition, signals the end of a long debate over the fate of the athletic field at Pierson Middle-High School, which has for some time had what many consider to be a subpar field behind the school. The natural grass field proposition, which also includes a natural grass practice field at Sag Harbor Elementary School and other outdoor upgrades at both campuses, was the back-up plan after the community squashed a plan in December to install a synthetic turf playing field at Pierson.

“I really want to thank our community for their high level of involvement,” Sag Harbor school superintendent Katy Graves said after the vote on Wednesday. “I really look forward to finally moving forward after three years.”

While the December vote spurred fiery community dialogue for months leading up to the vote, and eventually drew a massive turnout – 1,106 people voted against the artificial turf, while 135 voted in favor of it, for a total of 1,241 ballots cast – the proposition on Wednesday was a quieter affair that drew fewer voters with a total of 531 ballots cast.

The funding for the $1.59 million plan that voters approved Wednesday is already in place, and school officials do not anticipate it costing taxpayers any additional money. It came from a November 2013 bond proposition the community approved to specifically fund a synthetic turf playing field at Pierson. The original bond was for $1.62 million, but some of that had been spent on plans for the failed synthetic turf field project.

After the original $1.62 million was approved in 2013, the actual plans for the field and other components such as a walking track, concrete plaza and staircase, movable bleachers and other items languished with the New York State Education Department waiting for approval, and by the time the project went out to bid, costs had risen beyond what the district had available.

The December 2016 proposition asked voters for permission to tap a reserve fund for extra money to make the synthetic turf field happen. Wednesday’s vote requested taxpayers’ permission to change the intended use of the original funding — a move that first required special legislation from New York State before the vote could take place.

“This has been a process going back to 2012 in the early planning stages,” said Sag Harbor School Board of Education Vice President Thomas John Schiavoni. “The community has let us know loud and clear what they want and we look forward to having beautiful natural grass fields at the schools for years to come.”