Board might decide to sack turf field project for now

Decision - With in-hand contributions toward $862,700 cost of the first phase lagging behind, school officials wonder whether to table plans for a year

Plans for a $1.6 million artificial turf field and stadium at Forest Grove High School could get sacked because donations are lagging behind a tight financial timeline.

Of the $862,700 it will take to complete the project's first phase, installation of the field, about $455,900 has been raised from individuals, community groups and businesses.

No funds have been raised for the second phase, which includes a new stadium and restroom facilities.

Members of the school board wondered out loud Monday night whether to table the project for a year. They'll discuss the issue again Jan. 28.

'I have a grandson who's going to be a freshman, and I'd love to see him play on that field,' said board member Ralph Brown. 'But I'm somewhat concerned about going out and doing fund raising after the project is done.'

Superintendent Jack Musser said the district would kick in $300,000 to gird up the project and keep it on schedule. That money would have been spent on field maintenance over the next 10 years anyhow, he noted.

Project supporters, including FGHS Athletic Director Doug Thompson, hoped to have the new field ready by the time school opens for the 2008-09 academic year.

Forest Grove teams currently practice and play on a natural grass field that's 10 years past its prime, Thompson said. He added that replacing the current field with natural grass would cost about $400,000.

Some community members - including Thompson and members of the Forest Grove Booster Club, which has pledged $350,000 to the project over the next 10 years - envision a field that allows year-round activity and expanded opportunities for youth.

Right now, sports teams only use the grass field about 150 hours a year, Thompson said. He estimated that a turf field would boost that usage to around 1,300 hours annually.

'This is a year-round playing surface that would serve all the community's youth,' including PE classes and band practice, he said.

Musser said conversations with Forest Grove city officials had yielded little in the way of a partnership in the project.

'I have my doubts as to whether the city will come through,' Musser said. 'I can't get a definitive yes or no.'

Board member Shawn Vilhauer was concerned that if the turf project moved forward, any bond levy the district might float for school construction next year could be in jeopardy.

'I want to see this happen, but the timing is tough,' he said. 'We come up with this beautiful new field, and then we go to the voters for money to replace Joseph Gale (School). They'll say, 'why'd you spend the money on a field'?'

A new elementary school will cost $9 million to $11 million, Musser said.

Thompson argued that building the turf field and stadium could produce a more confident community that would be more likely to pass a school construction bond.

'If you build it, they will come,' he said.

Thompson worried that putting the project off a year could cause some donors to pull the plug on their suppport.

'You've got people ready to write $50,000 and $70,000 checks. There's momentum now,' he said.

Board member Fred Marble said he preferred to raise the $862,700 for turf installation entirely from private donations.