Councilman Lanny McPherson said it would be one of the biggest mistakes the council could ever make by accepting a bid of $438,000 to turf both fields at the park, which is being paid for by $1.5 million in Rockwell settlement funds.
It’s not necessarily the bid price that bothered McPherson and his fellow council members who voted with him (Jimmy Davenport, Pat Bell and Doug Nash), but that the taxpayers would have to foot the bill in 10 or 11 years when it was time to replace the turf.
“These companies try to get you into their business by offering this price because they know after you do they got you for replacement,” said McPherson adding, “If we do this we will have to put $100,000 into the budget each year to save up for the cost of replacing the turf in the future.”
Using artificial turf on the two soccer fields along with the softball field, which will cost an additional $200,000, was an idea that originated from the beginning of the project claimed Mayor Gene Zick, who has spent the last several months researching turf by visiting several soccer fields and suppliers – some as far away as Texas and North Carolina. An engineering firm was also hired to act as a consultant.
“I don’t understand why the council is balking at this now. In the beginning of the project it was said that turf prices would probably come in at $7 a square foot. This company is offering it at $4 a square foot. The price should not be a surprise, but in fact a relief,” said Zick.
The city received $1.5 million from the state’s Energy & Environmental Protection Cabinet (EEPC) in 2007 to build the park. The money came from a settlement between the state and Rockwell International, a long-serving industry in Russellville that released Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) into the environment. The property the park is located on was donated to the city by Rockwell along with the old Chrysler building beside McDonald’s.
Mayor Zick tried Tuesday night to show the benefits of laying artificial turf in comparison to McPherson’s suggestion of sand based Bermuda grass.
“It has rained six inches in October alone. Do you know what that kind of rain would do to a grass soccer field?” asked Zick.
Putting turf on the fields would allow for kids to play in tournaments throughout the year, where grass would prevent activity depending on the weather, according to Zick.
McPherson disagreed with Zick, saying he had done some research on artificial turf and found there was a field in Texas that when it was 98 degrees outside the field reached temperatures of 176 degrees and irrigation was used to cool them off.
“I don’t want to risk kids getting heat stroke,” said McPherson.
McPherson said he read in the News-Democrat & Leader where Zick was quoted saying there would have to be several items – such as bleachers, scoreboards, walking trails, bridges and a skate park – that would have to be donated in the park.
“We can put sand-based Bermuda grass on the two fields for $9,800, which would save money to spend on these donated items,” said McPherson. “You don’t have to replace grass and the maintenance would not be that much.”
Zick said there was another issue at hand involving the management agreement between the state, the city and Rockwell that spelled out the city had to put artificial turf on the fields to act as a additional environmental barrier between the soil that could hold PCBs and the surface.
“I’ve never seen that document,” said McPherson. “I think if we do have that it’s a shame we signed it. We should not be held to something we can’t afford. This is like trying to by a Mercedes with a Chevrolet budget.”
Crystal Cavanah, a soccer mom and local realtor spoke at Tuesday’s meeting saying she was embarrassed when she took a client to the city/county park because the grass was so high.
“We can’t mow the grass we have now. We really need to work on our town and community because this is our future and our kid’s future,” said Cavanah adding she has been to tournaments where they have spent $500 and was unable to play because of the condition of the fields.
“I don’t think the differences in artificial turf and grass will keep tournaments from happening,” said councilman Jimmy Davenport. “This is about what the taxpayer’s will inherit and I don’t want to worry about what is going to get donated and what isn’t.”
Council member Pat Bell said she wanted to make sure the project did not run over budget and said she was not for raising taxes in the future to pay for its replacement.
Soccer mom Melissa Burnett said citizens would end up paying higher taxes in the future for something else anyway. “I remember you all talking about artificial turf a long time ago. You were told it would be $7 a square foot and you said nothing and now it’s $4 and you just now want to talk about it,” said Burnett.
A frustrated Parks & Rec director Kathy Maroney said she can’t sell the park to possible donators if she doesn’t have support from the city.
“There is never a positive thing said about the parks. It’s hard to solicit when you won’t even back it,” said Maroney to the council.
After McPherson’s motion passed with Councilman Jack Whipple and Russell Jones voting against the motion, Zick said he it was unfortunate.
“I expect the state relative to the progress of this park will be saying they want their $1.5 million back,” said Zick, ending the discussion.