By JOHN T. WARD
After hearing comments from residents divided over the initiative, the council decided not to pursue a $250,000 Monmouth County Open Spaces grant toward an estimated $1.5 million project cost. Not this year, at least.
“I don’t see the benefit of going to the county with half the community opposed,” said Councilman Donald Galante.
“Let’s come up with another solution,” he said, referring to an alternative plan to address drainage problems at various playing fields around town. “If it takes another year, it takes another year.”
The turf plan arose out of concern expressed by coaches and parents that the park’s fields, and those elsewhere in town, are subject to lingering sogginess after wet weather, which prompts game cancellations and drives kids above third-grade age into programs in nearby towns, said recreation Director Doug Glassmacher.
“The feeling we’ve been getting is that parents want to upgrade the fields,” he said.
Informal discussions with a single possible vendor, Field Turf, led to a rough cost estimate of $1.5 to cover the baseball and two soccer fields at Sickles located within a cinder track, said Glassmacher.
Going artificial would save the town in mowing and maintenance fees, allow year-round playing in multiple sports and, presumably, increase participation, he said.
“We spend $2,000 a year just to line our fields” each year, Glassmacher said, whereas the markings on the artificial turf would be permanent.
Glassmacher found support among some parents in the audience, including volunteer coach Mark Gasperino, of Parker Avenue, who called on the council to file the grant application with the Monmouth County Freeholders, due September 17.
“Those of us who have kids agree the fields need improvement,” Gasperino said. “If it rains on Wednesday, we can’t play on Friday.”
But others called for a cost-benefit analysis that takes into account the expense of replacing the turf when it becomes worn. Concerns about the temperature of the playing surface in summer were raised, as were aesthetic objections.
Skylar Haugenes, who works at the Boys & Girls Club of Monmouth County in Red Bank, said when she takes children from the club to nearby Count Basie Fields, they make a beeline for the grass, not the artificial turf.
“I have a problem with the term ‘playability,'” she said. “Yes, if you’re an athlete, but not if you’re a normal person. I don’t think it benefits all the children.”
Reminding the council that the park’s name includes the word ‘farm,’ John Bollinger said the artificial field would be “hideously mismatched” with its setting: adjacent to a farm market and a historic house.
The council decided, however, to instead seek funding to improve drainage at Sickles and, if allowed by the county, additional or alternative sites.