2017-06-01 / Views

Glen Lake’s finances drive turf discussion

What does a school district buy that has everything?

In the case of Glen Lake Community Schools, the answer just may be artificial turf on its football field.

The cost borders on outrageous, even for a school district with a reputation for sparing no expense for its athletic programs. Bids for the turf vary from $735,000 to $880,000, prices that can’t be justified by an estimated $2,000 to $10,000 annual savings in maintenance.

Naturally, opponents to the project have emerged, although some of their voices quieted after learning more about the project.

For instance, the cost to reconstruct the field, which suffers from poor drainage that would be eliminated by crowning the surface, comes in at $400,000. And the work couldn’t be completed before the 2017 season begins.

While the field mostly sits vacant at night other than four to seven busy games of football in the fall, it is also used an estimated 150 days a year by physical education classes.

A few say artificial turf is a haven for bacteria. Others say artificial turn may cause more injuries. Yet, Glen Lake football coach Jerry Angers is all in on the new field. No one can deny that Mr. Angers cares deeply about his players.

A couple discussion points against the turf project lack validity. No, it was not kept quiet until the Board of Education was ready to act. The project has been on the district’s schedule for capital improvements for three years. Another says that the district doesn’t spend enough for students who don’t partake in school sports. In 2015 Glen Lake spent $1.6 million on a new media center.

The truth is that Glen Lake is a rich school district, made so by annual and sizable contributions from the federal government through its Impact Aid program. The program was designed to help local schools whose property was taken over by the federal government, resulting in less property tax revenue. However, the program makes little sense in Michigan where school aid is divvied out by the number of pupils. And Glen Lake is one of a handful of districts in Michigan that takes in so much in property taxes placed on vacation and commercial properties that it’s ineligible for state per-pupil funding.

Sshh. Don’t tell Washington.

In the 2015-16 fiscal year, Glen Lake received $3.2 million in Impact Aid and expected to finish with a fund balance of more than $16 million.

So, no, Glen Lake won’t have to cut other programs to pay for artificial turf on its football field

To its credit, the district has been responsible in its outlays despite having the finances to spend at will, from what we’ve observed. Past boards of education have waived bond collections that had been approved by voters.

So do we think installing synthetic turf represents the very best use of public funds? No. But tell us, just what does a school district buy that has everything?

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You decide – do nothing,

You decide – do nothing, artificial turf, or natural grass? Whatever your decision is, it will divide the community and that’s unfortunate. “True leadership doesn’t concern itself with popularity” read it somewhere, I believe it applies. For me, it’s a simple conclusion after gaining facts from experts, engineers and people involved in both industries for as many as 40 years and of course, many meetings. First off I would like to say, I would absolutely love and cherish a natural grass field that could sustain the rigors of use. Michigan State University has the best grass field in the country but if you notice, they have about 10 – 15 people maintaining and preparing their field regularly and they don’t even practice on it. The natural grass specialist that was at our meeting and has been growing grass all over the country for 40 years and selling Glen Lake seed and fertilizer said a field could handle 15-20 events per year. Glen Lake wants to USE the field for practices, games, physical education classes, tournaments, spring time practices, 7 on 7’s, summer camps, band practices and much more. We have 15-20 events every 2 weeks, my opinion is the same as the professionals, a grass field is not a viable option if we USE it. Glen Lake is currently running a pre-K – 12th school under 1 roof and this decision must benefit every student. A few community members have said that the current field was fine for them when they went to Glen Lake, just put some top soil and re-seed it. This option, just like I stated previously limits our use to game time activity only. We would not be able to use this space, it would be only for games which is what we’ve been doing for many years. The football teams practice on the baseball and softball fields and they tear them up in the process of not using the space that is dedicated for them as a “football” field. Furthermore, Glen Lake currently offers more activities than ever before, we have more sports programs, class offerings and more student participation is higher than ever. Back in the “day”, they had 1 football team, we now have 6 Football teams (HS, JV, 7th,8th, Pop Warner JV, Pop Warner PeeWee), 4 Soccer teams and Cross Country (that's just fall). It’s time to fix what’s been broken for many years and make it a better and safer place for our students. My reasons for not wanting natural grass; requires routine maintenance and field prep, is easily damaged in weather conditions, once damaged and repaired grass fields can’t be used, STAY OFF THE GRASS, repairs to field require mother nature to fix, mother nature in Northern Michigan (wait 5 minutes) I don’t think we get CROP INSURANCE, sloppy footing for players of any sport, dangerous conditions have/will result in serious injuries, limits use of field to only support football games (nothing else), fertilizers (bags that say keep out of reach of children for 10 days…) and other products are very harmful to the environment and Glen Lake watershed. Field requires about 19,000 gallons of water per day in spring, summer and fall, our current fields all need work and I can’t imagine we could dedicate the time necessary to keep up. One event in the rain destroys the center of the field 20yd line to 20yd line, winter mold on grass, costs to put in a field that is limited to 40 events costs the school over $400,000 which doesn’t include new machinery necessary to maintain it. Field prep to tear up, remove, replace with materials, drainage and crowning is $290,000. Once prepped, field would take at least 1 year for sod and 1.5 years for seed ($30,000 – $120,000) to root. My reasons for wanting artificial turf; The MHSAA’s own requirement is for *all* semifinal contest to be played on artificial turf. Turf is always consistent, safe surface 24/7/365, available all day, and every day all year long. Turf requires much less maintenance and field layouts are *always* consistent for football, soccer, and lacrosse, MANY USES (not just limited to FOOTBALL). Professional look and feel, something to be proud of and a destination for fans and community members to gather. Turf is quicker to repair and maintain, no need for mother nature to repair. Over 120 schools in the state have switched to artificial turf and not even one we have contacted regrets their decision. The field would be usable in less than 60 days, no issues with any scheduling. Spring sports, baseball, soccer and softball teams could get out of the gyms earlier instead of hitting balls off the gym floors and our track teams can get out of the hallways. We can use this field for football practices, something that has never been done for any of our 6 football teams. Soccer teams and other sporting activities could use the field at night under the lights, something that other districts have been doing for years. If you do a cost per use factor, artificial turf is much cheaper than a natural grass option. Teams have stated they would look forward to playing at Glen Lake, currently they aren’t proud to play at our field. Some players have indicated they look forward to playing games in Traverse City at Thirlby Field (artificial turf field) because they know what they’ll get every time on the field. Spend the money on Education!! That has been another argument I’ve heard; the facts are very clear that Glen Lake has a lot of programs for our students. Offerings in some areas where we have less than 10 students per teacher, we have new digital and printed text books, technology 1.5 to 1 (1 ½ technology devices per student), state of the art media center. The board has never turned down a program that has been suggested by the curriculum committee. The school board has been fully supportive of the art programs, the band programs (wish we could get more students in band because I LOVE IT), choir, our robotics team and clubs have never been turned down for funding. We’ve got budgets for Odyssey of the Mind, Envirothon, student trips, senior trips, plays and funding. I’ve been on the board for 7 years and we’ve never turned down a request for education. Our student to teacher ratio is also one of the best in Northern Michigan and we spend over $17,500 per student at Glen Lake which is one of the highest in the state. Our teachers, administrators and aids are some of the highest paid professionals in Northern Michigan. Glen Lake is not putting a millage together to pay for the new field (whatever it ends up being), we will be taking the cost of the new field out of our general funds. Glen Lake has a fund balance and the artificial turf option would use about 7% of the fund balance. Glen Lake is “out of formula school district” this means funds for our school come from NON-HOMESTEADED PROPERTIES. Our local “homesteaded” property taxes go to the State of Michigan (likely funding Detroit schools). Roughly 8 million dollars of our 11-million-dollar budget comes from these NON-HOMESTEAD tax payers. The other funding Glen Lake is fortunate to receive is from Impact Aid, this program was established when the federal government took over our Sleeping Bear land from property owners and they pay ZERO tax. We currently receive around 3 million dollars annually for these properties that were taken over. One thing about this board that I'm very proud of is transparency - we share all materials, plans, documents, budgets, policies (up to date for the first time in 7 years), meeting minutes and more are all online and available for the public.