The grass football field at Olentangy Orange High School will be replaced with synthetic turf this summer thanks to a funding deal struck with the school's athletic booster group last week.
At a meeting last Thursday, April 25, the school board voted 4-1 to approve a plan to have the field installed in June, to be funded 100 percent by the boosters. Board member Adam White voted "no."
Booster groups at Liberty and Olentangy high school are still working to raise the necessary funds to install turf at their schools and have no firm plans just yet, school representatives said.
The installation at Orange is expected to cost about $500,000, to be paid off through private donations and financing over five years.
Under the agreement, all risk falls on the boosters if the funding plan fails, and the board accepts no financial risk for installation, turf committee co-chairman Roger Bartz said.
"If we fail to pay, we go under, and our private investors lose their money. They understand that," Bartz said.
He added: "We are a cash-generating machine. We generate between $500,000 and $600,000 in gross revenue every year. We have a financial plan to pay this off and to pay it off early."
The district does accept all future costs of maintaining and replacing the turf field as needed, but advocates said it will save money in the long run because turf doesn't need to be watered, fertilized, mowed or otherwise maintained like grass.
Proponents also say turf is far more versatile than grass and can be used even in rainy conditions without tearing up the ground.
That will open up the field to be used for team practices and a wide variety of other programming, potentially including youth sports, gym classes, concerts and pep rallies.
The surface may also be safer for athletes than a rough, bumpy and often impacted grass surface, particularly for reducing concussions, advocates said.
"We think there's a storm on the horizon when it comes to head injuries in high school sports," said turf committee co-chairman Mike Bull. "With a synthetic turf field, we know we have a consistent hardness day in and day out."
Several residents spoke at the meeting, pointing out that some studies have shown mixed results in regards to the relative safety of turf.
The field is expected to last eight to 10 years before it needs to be replaced at a cost of $250,000 to $300,000.
That's a sticking point for opponents, despite promises that the district ultimately will save money overall thanks to lower maintenance costs.
"If you can show me that there's no cost to the taxpayer now and forever more, then I'm OK with it -- but you can't," said resident Brian Helwig.
The Orange High School field could be finished as early as mid-July, Bull said.
Bull said the Olentangy High School boosters are considering a major fundraising event this summer to help finance a turf field for their school.
In regards to Liberty High School's efforts, turf committee member Jim Chickarella said: "We're still trying to raise money. We're doing the best we can."
The turf project has been ongoing for more than two years. It was stifled last summer after the school board unanimously rejected a proposed plan to help finance the cost of the fields.