OLD LYME — The Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education voted on Wednesday to approve the installation of an artificial turf field, with one modification: swapping the controversial crumb rubber infill for what was described as a more environmentally friendly substance.
Diane Linderman, chair of the Board of Education, said that the Facilities Committee had met in December and changed the plan for crumb rubber infill to a product called Brockfill, which are small organic pellets engineered from southern pine.
Neviaser said he hoped that the change would address some of the concerns that people had raised at previous Board of Education meetings.
“We’re trying to be responsive to our community members,” said Neviaser.
The Brockfill would add an additional $194,450 to the estimated installation cost, bringing the total to about $2,347,750, which would be taken out of the school’s undesignated fund.
Brockfill is a relatively new product, developed in 2018, and has been used in 100 fields nationally. Currently, two artificial fields in Bristol use Brockfill, along with a few in Rhode Island.
Several parents and residents had previously objected to the crumb rubber infill because of its potential environmental risks. Denise Savageau, a former environmental consultant and member of multiple state councils and committees on the environment, said that there were two main problems with crumb rubber.
One concern was the infield’s potential to leach high concentrations of zinc into the runoff from the field, a consequence that has been reported in a study from DEEP. The second was the issue of microplastics – which, Savageau said, in addition to potential runoff into the Long Island Sound, could cause disposal problems when it was time to re-turf the field.
“We cannot put tires in landfills, so why do we think we can ground them up … and put them under artificial turf?” said Savageau.
Brockfill, in contrast, can be recycled back into the soil or used as mulch. “It will be 100 percent sustainable,” said Neviaser, but would have about the same lifespan as the crumb rubber.
The turf field is warrantied for 10 years. Goulding claimed that if the field lasted only the length of the warranty, it would cost the same as a grass field would to maintain, and if it lasted longer, it would save the district money.
The design was also approved at a December 14 meeting of the town’s Zoning Commission, on the condition that clarifications were made about installation and construction of the drainage system and the collector pipe and the drainage system was compliant with the recommendations given by the synthetic turf manufacturer.
Opinions for and against
Several high school students spoke in favor of the turf field, saying that practicing on a grass field rather than on a turf field, like most of their competitors, puts them at a disadvantage on game day. They talked about having to cancel games because of the rain. One junior said she often went to East Lyme to practice on their turf field.
“Turf and grass are very, very different to play on,” said Gretchen Burgess, a sophomore at the high school. “Being able to practice like we play is a big game changer for us.”
Another, Kristen Geshel, who said she had three children including one in the high school, said it didn’t make sense to have a turf field when they were trying to stay away from plastics.
“Smells horrible. I would never want to play on it, and I would never want my children to play on one,” she said.
Board members also voiced some concerns.
Suzanne Thompson said she was concerned that the rising awareness of the damage that microplastics do in the Long Island Sound could lead to policies that would force them to remove the turf field not long after it was installed. She suggested getting a second opinion on whether there was a better way to take care of the natural grass field.
Jennifer Miller, another board member, said that the real problem with a grass field was that, no matter how well a grass field was maintained, it would never give them the number of hours necessary for the students to play.
Board member Steven Wilson also questioned the expense, and the fact that they were deciding to put in a turf field during a period of financial uncertainty and pandemic.
“Is there a reason we want to make this decision now, as opposed to when things stabilize?” asked Wilson.
Neviaser responded that the price they were able to get from the design firm was excellent, and board member Rick Goulding added that the budget was stable.
“What’s proposed is really a bare minimum,” said Goulding, pointing out that the field plan did not include lights or bleachers. “There’s really no ‘options’ that we’ve thrown onto this field. We’re not building a sports complex.”
Martha Grossel, a parent who lives in Old Lyme and had previously expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of the turf field, thanked the board for listening to the complaints about the crumb rubber. She asked that the board in the future give more opportunity for local residents to have a voice in the process. Grossel said she had written letters, but had not received a response.
“I just ask that moving forward you make this a more transparent process,” said Grossel.
Two other parents and residents also objected to what they saw as a lack of input, saying they wished the public had had more of a chance to weigh in.
“I would really love to see the community have a greater say in this and a vote,” said Geshel.
Wilson agreed that a project with such a significant cost should allow the public to be part of the decision making.
Board member Jean Wilczynski said, on the other hand, that the public had elected them to the board to make decisions like this.
The turf field was approved 6-3, with Steven Wilson, Suzanne Thompson and Mary Powell St. Louis voting against.
The board will vote on bids for construction of the field in May. Neviaser said that, ideally, the field would be ready for the fall 2021 school year.