Pierson Athletic Field Back at Polls in February

The grass field behind the Pierson Middle-High School. Photo by Simon Harrison

By Kathryn G. Menu

Sag Harbor residents will head back to the voting booth in February to weigh in on a new — and natural — plan for the Pierson Middle-High School athletic field following a decisive vote against a synthetic turf field last week.

The Sag Harbor Board of Education on Monday voted unanimously to send a plan for a natural sod field to voters for approval on February 15. The public vote, which would also approve plans for a new multi-purpose court and athletic practice field at Sag Harbor Elementary School, would not seek additional funding from taxpayers, but would allow the district to reallocate monies approved for synthetic turf in 2013 towards a plan for natural grass.

Monday night’s decision, which was not without debate among members of the board of education, follows the vote last week on a synthetic turf field at Pierson — a plan that was scaled back from what residents approved in 2013 for financial reasons. Residents shot down the plan for synthetic turf by an overwhelming margin of 1,016-135. The project drew the ire of some parents who raised health concerns about the crumb rubber infill used to make the fields, and was opposed by both the Sag Harbor Elementary School PTA and the Pierson Middle-High School PTSA.

The plan for grass athletic fields — originally discussed by board members this fall — includes the construction of a 75-yard by 110-yard sod playing field with drainage and irrigation, which would serve all students during physical education classes, lunch and recess, as well as athletes competing in varsity field hockey and soccer.

The funding — just over $1.43 million — would also be used to build concrete stairs connecting the middle school gymnasium to the field (currently students amble down a dirt hill), as well as a concrete student plaza, new bleacher pads and bleachers that will seat 240 spectators. A new electric scoreboard would also be installed on the middle school gym wall, if the plan is approved, as would new fencing and ball stopper fencing at Pierson. Improvements would also be funded at the elementary school including a 40-yard by 75-yard sod practice field, the reconstruction of a multi-purpose court, and replacement of a concrete plaza at the front of the school.

If approved, Superintendent Katy Graves said she would hope to construct Pierson’s portion of the project late this spring with the hope to field athletic teams in the fall of 2017. Improvements at the elementary school would begin the following summer.

According to architect Larry Salvesen, of BBS Architecture, softball and modified and junior varsity baseball will be moved to Mashashimuet Park due to constraints with the size of the field, the need to incorporate clay or sand into baseball and softball diamonds, and also to allow the grass time to rest so it can be maintained for varsity play.

“We do pay a sum to the park to house our athletic programs and especially from softball’s standpoint that is something the park has an overabundance of,” said athletic director and grounds director Eric Bramoff.

“The only question that has come into play is can we get our grass to be as good as the park,” added Mr. Bramoff.

“It’s going to be better,” said board member Susan Lamontagne, who worked with parents Jill Musnicki and Diane Hewitt to question the use of synthetic turf before being elected to the board late last spring.

Board member Sandi Kruel noted the park rotates the use of the field to keep it prepared for optimal play.

“You are not going to have that level because we are going to have kids on it eating lunch, having recess, and [physical education],” she said.

Board member Stephanie Bitis said she heard from residents who voted against synthetic turf was because it was a scaled back plan, with a two-lane walking track that was originally proposed still not being offered. The walking track, which cannot be used for varsity or junior varsity competition, is the only aspect of the 2013 plan not included in this proposal.

“I completely understand the intention for expediting this — it’s a movie that never ends,” said board member Chris Tice. “But I do think it is a big deal and I think we should do it right.”

According to business administrator Jennifer Buscemi, any delay in the board moving forward with a vote would push the ballot initiative further into the spring, and raise the likelihood that the field at Pierson would not be ready for fall competition.

“The way it was explained to me was we wanted a vote in a workable time to have a field in September for the children,” she said.

“I think with the money we have, adding additional work at elementary school, if we can do the track that would be nice but I don’t want to delay this anymore than it has already been,” said board member Thomas John Schiavoni.

The board ultimately decided to move forward with the February 15 vote, although Ms. Kruel said she would like taxpayers updated with what the maintenance costs for a natural grass field will look like.