Artificial turf issue creates real dilemma

After years of talking about the need to modernize the South Kitsap School District athletic facilities, a group organized as the South Kitsap Community Sports Foundation is going to give private fundraising a try.

Their list of projects is fairly long, so it may take several years to raise the needed funds.

First up would be the high school athletic fields, especially the football field, which may cost $1.5 million for the installation of artificial turf.

Doing everything they believe is needed or desirable at the schools runs the total up to about $4 million — their ultimate goal.

Raising that kind of money through private efforts seems like a daunting task. Try imagining what it would take to get 10,000 people to donate $100 apiece each year for four consecutive years.

Or, you could hope for a few people whose large donations add up to what you might get from a few thousand others in small donations.

Whatever route is taken to reach the fundraising goal, it doesn’t seem that it could be quickly or easily done.

The obvious alternative is to persuade a majority of the voters in South Kitsap to approve a six-year capital projects levy that would cost the typical household about $25 a year in higher property taxes.

Raising property taxes is rarely a popular idea, but the amount needed from each person is a lot less when everyone pays rather than only those willing to make a donation.

A less obvious alternative would be to have the school district set aside many thousands of dollars of its revenue each year in a reserve fund for as many years as it takes to accumulate the needed amount.

Neither of these alternatives seems especially likely to succeed when so many people are unsure of their own economic prospects and the school district faces reduced state funding for academic programs.

If setting aside thousands each year to accumulate the needed funds to install artificial turf at the high school is impossible now, would doing the same to pay for replacing the artificial turf be possible?

Artificial turf needs to be replaced after about 10 to 12 years, which takes a lot of money, though not nearly as much as the initial installation.

Unless the school district begins setting aside funds in reserve to pay the cost of replacing the artificial surface, one ought to wonder how it would be paid for.

Fundraising may pay for the initial installation, but relying on donors to pay for its replacement seems like a good way to find out just how bad the surface gets when it passes its life expectancy.

Fortunately, it might not be necessary to rely on fundraising for the eventual replacement of the artificial surface every 10 to 12 years.

The estimated savings in annual maintenance costs after replacing the field’s grass with artificial turf is about $18,000.

Unlike grass, which has to be left alone to recover from the pounding it takes during a game, artificial turf is there until it wears out or deteriorates from age.

So, the field can be rented to groups for games or practice throughout the year.

If maintenance cost savings and revenue from rental fees are put in a reserve fund to pay for the turf’s replacement, the district might be able to pay for replacement without taking money from other district programs or again turning to donors.

Of course, the district will have to pay for the replacement one way or another, whether cost savings and rental fees add up to enough or not.

But there is reason to believe that donors wouldn’t be burdening the school district with a white elephant.

Instead, it seems probable that South Kitsap schools could have much better athletic facilities that can be maintained by the district after the donors pay the initial costs.

It’s an interesting prospect — better facilities available to both school and outside groups all year round.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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