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Investor's green to yield blue turf

January 26, 2011 - Let's go blue!

Coach Bud Rowley and the boys will be playing football this season on new synthetic turf that matches their jersey color.

An enthusiastic cheer of celebration and chants broke out, led by members of the varsity football team, when the Board of Education approved the donation of the blue and gold synthetic field turf from the Oxford Turf Committee by a 6-0 vote on Monday, Jan. 24.

Neither Oxford taxpayers nor the school district will foot the bill for anything related to the turf installation thanks to one generous, anonymous private investor and the Oxford Turf Committee, who are giving the district the $300,000 needed to install the blue synthetic turf.

This investor is loaning – not donating –the turf committee the difference between the funds it's raised privately and the actual cost of the turf. There is the expectation that this loan will be repaid by the turf committee.

The $300,000 does not include monies for a new scoreboard or maintenance buildings.

Turf Committee Chairman Jim Reis said he would provide the board with documentation giving the school zero liability for anything related to the turf's installation.

"There will be a letter involved stating they are not going to hold the school, their agents or anybody liable for any of this project," Reis said.

The school board approved a motion "to approve the donation of synthetic turf from Oxford Turf Committee, pending verification of the details stated about ownership being purchased by the turf committee, not by the school district."

The field, being installed by Pro Grass Synthetic Turf Systems located in Pittsburgh, PA, will be navy blue with gold field numbers and side lines.

According to Reis, the committee has raised nearly $50,000 and will continue to raise money until the purchase of the turf.

At the time of purchase, the investor has agreed to "put up whatever it takes to have that turf put on the field, whatever that number is," according to Reis.

Reis said this agreement allows the turf committee to continue fundraising and have "a number of years to pay off the field."

He also indicated he "sees no problems in paying the investor back."

According to Oxford Athletic Director Mike Watson, monies raised through fundraising would go towards a payment plan to Pro Grass and "whatever wasn't made up in the payments, the investor would cover."

Reis also stated they would be entering into a contract with Pro Grass and the investor, but all of the particulars would remain private.

"I am not going to discuss any of the terms of what we are doing," he said. "That is private – between the turf committee and who is doing this."

"You have to understand things like that; someone stepping forward and doing this doesn't want all that. It's just the way it is," Reis added.

Reis indicated that it would be up to the turf committee to pay back the initial cost of installing the turf this year.

"None of the monies that are coming from the field are going to pay for the turf. Nothing that is going to the schools is going to pay for the turf. It is all turf committee that is going to pay back the funds," he said.

As for replacing the turf in the future, Reis hopes the turf committee will be able to do that as well.

"It is our plan as part of this foundation to never have the schools pay for that field," Reis told the board. "We want to set up a foundation so when the time comes to replace the field, we will replace the field."

The cost of replacing the turf is around $200,000. It is guaranteed to last between eight and 15 years.

Watson stated future replacement could be paid for by monies raised from stadium rentals involving outside events.

"If we had an MHSAA football semifinal, we would take the profit from that and either split the profit into operations for the athletic department and the other split would go into the turf replacement fund," he explained.

"Or we are going to put all that profit into

the turf replacement fund in an interest bearing account until there is enough principal in there to gain enough interest at the end of first term of the turf," he added.

Watson said the emphasis is going to switch from installing the turf to figuring out a way, either directly or indirectly, in which the school district would not be responsible to replace the turf with tax dollars.

"The number one goal is to get events that you would normally never have at the stadium, because that not only brings in new money into the school district, but it helps bring in new money into the community and downtown area, which helps the local economy too," Watson explained.

Troy Athens High School Athletic Director Robert Dowd said the athletic boosters gross between $7,000 and $9,000 per year when they hosted the football state semifinals.

"The MHSAA gives you 20 percent, and out of that 20 percent you basically have to pay for your expenses," he said.

Dowd said the officials were paid for and the school received $15 a person for the chain-links crew. "By the time you are done, it depends on the number of tickets that you sold. For us, it's a big draw because our athletic boosters are able to have one of their biggest stand afternoons."

He thought the idea for blue turf was "cool" and "loved seeing that kind of thing."

Dowd wasn't alone.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for Oxford to stand up and show its blue and gold," Rowley said. "This is an outstanding opportunity for us as a community, as a school system, as Oxford Wildcats."

Oxford resident Bryan Thomas called it a "win-win for everyone in the community and school district" when he found out it would not cost taxpayers or the school district any extra money.

"I think that it is phenomenal that we are able to secure private donations to donate the field, especially the timing with the amount of money that has been set aside for the bond to do the drainage around that field," he said.

Reis added the timing couldn't be better for installing the synthetic turf due to the athletic field undergoing renovation to redo the track and fix the drainage underneath the field this summer. The renovations were part of the $32.7 million bond approved by voters in November 2009.

Reis indicated that it would be a waste of the school district's money to tear up the football field this year to fix the drainage problems and install new natural grass, then come back in two or three years with enough money for the synthetic turf and have to tear it up again.

"Now we can take advantage of what is being done right now, save the district some money and present this gift," he added.

Chuck Lewis, the Vice President for Architecture for IDS, agreed with Reis on his assessment.

"It makes a lot of sense to do this right have a brand new track that would be installed and have to be protected and most likely be repaired," he said. "You are going to be driving heavy vehicles over it and you don't know what kind of damage could ultimately happen."

Construction is scheduled to start on the athletic facility around April 19 and be completed in time for the Lake Orion/Oxford football game.

According Watson, the installation of synthetic turf would increase the use of the field tenfold.

Watson estimates only 61 athletic events can occur on the natural grass surface between fall and spring sports teams.

"No practices can occur out there because of the damages that occur to the stadium field," Watson said.

"There are (only) so many events that we can hold on a grass field before damage occurs, where we would have to replace, resod and reseed," Watson said. "Obviously...the ideal surface to play on is a well-cared for grass field, but as you can see, there are a lot of activities that can occur on a synthetic surface."

With the synthetic turf, the use could increase to an estimated 644 uses between fall and spring high school athletic events and practices.

"This has to be multiple use for multiple years, and we kind of have to be utilitarian in that regard, so that is why you do things like this," he said.

Boys and girls soccer games could also be played at the new stadium, which would make it easier for students and athletes to get to the games. Watson told the board "that getting kids across town to practice without busing is sometimes problematic."

Both teams currently practice and play behind Oxford Elementary School at 109 Pontiac St.

"It really opens it up to the community for practices, for contests, for physical education classes and even for rentals that can help us generate revenue," Watson said. "It creates opportunities for children that have been lacking before."

The cost of maintenance would also go down with the installation of the turf. Maintaining a grass field costs the district around $21,000 a year. With synthetic turf, the average annual maintenance cost is around $4,000.

The school district would continue to pay for the field's maintenance, regardless of whether it's natural grass or synthetic turf.

Everyone was thrilled with the board's decision. In a letter written to Reis, Oxford Downtown Development Authority Director Madonna Van Fossen praised the installation of the new turf and the group's effort to get it done.

"I hear comments on a continual basis at how great the downtown looks. Now with the blue turf being added to the high school football field, it is exciting to imagine how many more visitors will be able to enjoy our downtown before and after the games. What a great addition to the school and this area," she wrote.

Ron Davis, the director of Oxford Parks and Recreation, was excited for the possibilities the new field created for youth teams.

"It is going to open a lot of opportunities for us as far as youth soccer, lacrosse, some opportunities to host some state games here...that we currently can't host simply because our athletic facilities at Seymour (Lake Park) are grass and they get too much play," he said.

Davis added that the new turf will strengthen the relationship between the parks department and school system.

"You can't understand how much you save when us and the school system work together to save you dollars...we are real excited to bring some new opportunities here for your kids via that facility," he said.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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