Backers of a campaign to install synthetic-turf athletics fields for Pickerington Schools' two high schools said they plan to support an upcoming bond issue for the district and hope its passage will springboard donations.

In October a group of residents formed the Pickerington Community Turf Project Committee and launched a campaign to raise $2.25 million to have synthetic-turf fields installed at Pickerington High School Central and Pickerington High School North.

As of Feb. 3, $33,591 had been pledged to the projects, according to a progress tracker on the committee's website.

"It's been a really slow progress to date," said Mike Little, Violet Township fire chief and chairman of the committee.

Despite what he described as a "sluggish start" to the campaign, Little said, the group has not wavered from its goal.

Committee members said they are maintaining hope, contingent upon the fundraising effort, to have the fields installed as early as fall 2021.

"As things move forward, we might have to reevaluate," Little said.

Committee leaders said they started the effort to privately raise money for the project because they believe synthetic-turf fields would increase the usability for practices and games, as well as band activities.

Little also said synthetic turf, as opposed to the grass fields at Central's Tiger Stadium and North's Panther Stadium, would be more durable.

He said synthetic turf would put athletes on an even playing field with many other central Ohio schools that already have such fields and better prepare them for playoff competitions, which already are held in stadiums with synthetic-turf fields.

A potential "X" factor for the committee's campaign is the Pickerington Schools' stated plans to place a bond issue on the November general-election ballot to fund construction of a new junior high school on a 68-acre parcel adjacent to Central to help address enrollment growth that's expected to rise from 10,600 currently to 12,400 during the next 10 years.

As discussed by district officials, the tax issue would be crafted to provide money to enhance other school and athletics facilities, as well.

In addition to plans to build the new junior high, school buildings throughout the district would be expanded and upgrades to athletics facilities -- including the construction of a new Tiger Stadium -- throughout the district.

Little said he believes some synthetic-turf supporters might be waiting to pledge money to the committee until after the results of the levy are finalized because Tiger Stadium lies in a floodplain and district officials reportedly are opposed to installing a synthetic field there.

"With the school levy, if it passes, it would probably boost our abilities to fundraise," Little said.

District administrators and the Pickerington school board have yet to finalize a bond package for the ballot.

Little said his committee plans to endorse the bond issue and campaign.

"Quite honestly, our group is not only for the turf; we're supportive of the levy," he said. "We're going to be out also trying to educate the public about why it's import to support the levy."

Little has said $2.25 million would provide money for installation and initial upkeep of the two fields, including periodically treating the turf to wash away bacteria.

Through an agreement with Pickerington Schools, the district would be responsible for ongoing maintenance of both fields.

The synthetic fields would have a projected life of approximately 10 years, and the district also would have to establish a means for replacing them on an ongoing basis.

Pickerington Schools treasurer Ryan Jenkins has said maintaining the synthetic fields would be accomplished by banking the difference between annual maintenance costs for the care and upkeep of grass surfaces vs. synthetic turf. That's estimated to be about $17,800.

The district also would contribute about $82,000 annually to its capital-funds budget to provide finances for field replacement.

Because the synthetic-turf fields are less expensive to replace than to originally install, Jenkins said, the maintenance savings and district funds could help the district maintain both fields and replace them as needed.

"Over a 10-year period, this will generate about $1 million needed to replace the surfaces at both fields," Jenkins said.

Currently, Jenkins said, the district spends about $80,000 to $82,000 per year to maintain the fields at both Tiger Stadium and Panther Stadium. He also said the district spent approximately $20,000 this year to resurface Tiger Stadium after significant rainstorms in 2018 took a toll on the grass field.

Synthetic-turf committee members said while they continue to solicit funds, they are looking to partner with another local group that's looking to raise $8 million for the construction of an 80,000-square-foot indoor hockey facility on land to be donated by the city of Pickerington at 1111 and 1113 Gray Drive.

Representatives of the Center Ice Foundation of Central Ohio did not return calls last week seeking an update on their campaign, but Little said the two fundraising groups recently met to discuss ways they could work together to meet their respective goals.

"We've had some discussions with the ice group about doing some fundraising efforts together for both projects in the future," he said. "We both see what we're trying to do as benefiting not only student athletes in the Pickerington school district, but also benefiting the Pickerington community and Pickerington's youth athletic groups."

Little said the synthetic-turf committee is finalizing plans for soliciting financial support from local businesses and could hold luncheons to pitch the project to the business community.

The group also continues to promote fundraising through its website, pickeringtonturf.com, and through social media.

"We're all over Facebook," Little said. "We're also on Twitter, and we have continued to maintain our presence at various events at the schools."

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