FORT ERIE - The District School Board of Niagara rolled out the red carpet Tuesday to herald the impending arrival of five artificial turf fields at the board’s secondary schools.
The actual red carpet led people over a construction site to the recently installed turf field at Greater Fort Erie Secondary School.
With the sound of construction on the new high school echoing in the background, DSBN officials and trustees and coaches and teachers from its secondary schools marked the installation of the board’s first turf field.
“What makes today even more satisfying is the board is moving forward with four other turf fields for students, in addition to Fort Erie,” said Wes Hahn, the board’s superintendant of education.
“With this project, the board is making a significant investment in the success of our students.”
The board is allocating $5 million in its multi-year capital budget to fund the turf fields at Greater Fort Erie Secondary School, A.N. Myer in Niagara Falls, Centennial in Welland and Governor Simcoe and Sir Winston Churchill in St. Catharines.
Greater Fort Erie will open in September and house the former populations of Fort Erie Secondary and Ridgeway-Crystal Beach High School. The new school’s team nickname will be Gryphons.
Tuesday’s announcement was a few years in the making.
“We’ve been thinking about this for a couple of years and we tried to figure out exactly how we could do it and how we could fund it,” said Warren Hoshizaki, DSBN director of education. “Once we started looking at our capital allotment — we’ve been doing so much with technology and the arts — it was time we did something with synthetic fields.
“We decided it was a no-brainer once we could find the funding for it.”
The only work left on the Fort Erie field is the installation of rubber pellets. The board wants to have tendering done by January for the remaining four fields.
“We hope to have most of the fields done by September … when the kids come back,” Hoshizaki said. “We expect some will be a little further into the fall. It may be September or October.”
The fields are being installed at the same time to generate economies of scale.
“We were thinking three one year and two the next year, but we thought if we could do it all together we might be able to get a better deal on it,” Hoshizaki said.
When the Niagara Catholic District School Board announced its new turf field at Saint Paul in Niagara Falls, director of education John Crocco said the Catholic board had spent between $100,000 and $150,000 in the summer repairing fields after rainy fall seasons.
The DSBN didn’t have a figure for its repair bills, but Hoshizaki said installing artificial turf fields doesn’t mean there won’t be ongoing costs in addition to the annual $10,000 maintenance budget per field.
“We will have to replace these fields as well, and we have to make sure we have money for that,” he said. “It is an ongoing process. They have about a 10- or 11-year lifespan on them.”
Costs are obviously less the second time around because the surface and drainage underneath is already in place.
A consultation process was used to determine which schools would receive the artificial turf fields.
“We talked to athletic directors, we talked to principals, and we tried to find a way where we could cover the system,” Hoshizaki said. “As you know, in West Lincoln we have an ARC (accommodation review committee) going on so we sort of left that.
“I’m not saying we are ending there. There’s no other motive, but these are the kinds of things we looked at first.”
Schools that didn’t get an artificial turf field shouldn’t assume anything about their futures.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
“We talked to all the principals and we came to the conclusion which ones to do first.”
Like the Catholic board, the DSBN will seek partners to provide added amenities at the fields.
“We have had quite a bit of interest in a number of locations, football teams and a number of municipalities,” Hoshizaki said. “They have already started to talk to us about lights, bleachers and those kinds of things. It has already started in just about every field we are looking at.
“It’s great. The more partnerships we are going to get, the better it is going to be.”
Dave Schaubel, a DSBN trustee for Fort Erie/Port Colborne, was thrilled to have the first turf field located at Greater Fort Erie Secondary School, the first secondary school build by DSBN in more than 40 years.
“It’s important that we do the right thing and get it right, and I think that we have,” he said. “The field will also be available to the community in the form of rentals, and these are truly win-win situations for the students and the community.”
Hoshizaki believes the fields will support more than organized sports at the elementary and secondary school level.
“All students will be able to use these fields for recreational activities, for training and for regular physical activity,” he said.
“Because they provide the consistent, even surface, the fields are much more accessible, allowing students with special needs more opportunity to become active.”
Niagara Falls Review