Quarterbacks and running backs for the Whitehall-Yearling High School Rams could be playing on artificial turf next season if voters approve the district's combined 3.41-mill issue on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Issue 8, a combined permanent-improvement levy and bond issue, would generate the revenue required to convert the natural-grass field at Whitehall-Yearling's football stadium to turf, as well as build an addition to Rosemore Middle School and provide "safety and security improvements" across the district.
A ballot win would increase homeowners' annual tax bills by $119 per $100,000 in property valuation. A district homeowner currently pays $1,364 annually per $100,000 of property valuation, according to district officials.
The installation of artificial turf at the high school isn't the only improvement the money would provide, but it's one of the most significant.
Bill Hughett, Whitehall's athletics director, said most high schools in central Ohio have artificial-turf football fields.
Whitehall competes in the Ohio Division of the Mid-State League with five other teams but is the only league school with a natural-grass field -- although the field at Buckeye Valley, which will join the league next year, has natural grass, Hughett said.
Hughett said he estimates about 90 percent of high schools in the multiple conferences and divisions in central Ohio have artificial-turf playing surfaces.
There are several advantages to artificial turf, both competitive and fiscal, Hughett said.
The district is left out of the equation when there is opportunity to host Ohio High School Athletic Association playoff games as a neutral site, and the district also misses out on the chance to lease its facility to other schools, such as Ready High School, Hughett said.
That means lost exposure and revenue from such games, he said.
Hughett estimated the district loses the chance to collect about $30,000 to $40,000 a year leasing its stadium to parochial schools that lack such facilities.
In addition, when games are canceled due to rain, the district not only loses revenue, but in some cases the advantage of a home game.
"If it rains an inch on the morning of a game day, we usually can't play," said Hughett, citing instances when Whitehall's natural turf took more rain than it could handle, leading to home games being rescheduled on the road.
Playing on natural turf also can lead to injury, from slips on wet grass to trips on divots or sprinkler heads, he said.
"I think we are at a competitive disadvantage," Hughett said, because the team plays and practices on natural grass while its opponents play on turf, where footballs bounce differently.
Nate Bobek, athletics director at Hilliard Davidson High School, said his district's recent changeover from grass to turf has been as successful as expected.
"The transition from grass to turf has been very smooth," he said. "From the time that we were given the OK to get on it over a year ago, I don't think there have been many days where one of our sports teams has not been on it. It is used by almost every sports team as well as our band.
"Having the ability to practice and play on the turf has been beneficial as we no longer have to worry about tearing up the grass and limiting the amount of time or events that required us to be on the game field," Bobek said.
If Issue 8 passes, Hughett said, a presentation would be made to school board members as soon as December for the construction of an artificial-turf field that could begin in April.
He estimated the cost to construct the new artificial turf field at about $750,000 to $800,000.
The issue also would fund the construction of an addition to Rosemore Middle School.
Whitehall Superintendent Brian Hamler said the district "has experienced an exceptional increase in enrollment" since the district began opening the first of five new school buildings in January 2012.
The addition's construction would receive assistance from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission if voters say "yes" to Issue 8.
If the levy is approved, the commission would fund 61 percent of the cost to construct an expansion to Rosemore Middle School that would house an additional 200 students, Hamler said.
The combined levy is the first ballot issue the district has sought since 2008, when voters approved a $23 million bond issue as part of an agreement with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission that completed a $78 million project to rebuild all five schools in the Whitehall district.
"As the second-fastest-growing district in Ohio, our enrollment is outpacing our space capacity," Hamler said. "The immediate need is at Rosemore Middle School, which is projected to house nearly 900 students in a building that was designed for 650 students.
"Within five years, we anticipate the high school will be faced with the same problem."
Issue 8 will allow the district to take advantage of nearly $6 million in state aid to construct the 28,000-square-foot addition, Hamler said.
It also will fund the redesign and construction of additional learning spaces in the original section of Whitehall-Yearling High School, he said.
"The growth we are experiencing is an indication of a strong, thriving community, but it places additional stresses on the schools. ... We are maximizing the spaces we have, but many operate without conditioned air and have substandard safety and security (that passage of Issue 8 would remedy)," Hamler said.