Shutesbury Board of Health voted unanimously on Wednesday April 19, to recommend against the installation of artificial turf at the Amherst-Pelham Regional High School. The decision means that the Boards of Health of all four member towns in the Regional School District have now advised, unanimously, against this product (see here, here, and here).
The Shutesbury board noted that it took up the issue at the request of Shutesbury residents and, although the field itself is located within the Town of Amherst, Shutesbury students who attend the regional schools would be impacted by the turf project.
The project to resurface, enlarge, and reorient the high school track and replace the interior with an artificial turf field was put forward by the Regional School Committee about a year ago. In the fall of last year, it became more widely known that artificial turf fields contain PFAS, a class of “forever chemicals” with significant detrimental effects. The negative health, safety, environmental, and climate impacts have also come to the fore, prompting resistance from other governing bodies to the project as proposed.
The project has failed to receive Community Preservation Act funding from all three member towns that have voted on it since the larger public has become aware of these issues. The Pelham and Leverett Community Preservation Committees (CPC) unanimously voted it down and the Regional School District withdrew its application to Shutesbury’s CPC the day before their scheduled vote. The Amherst Town Council only authorized additional funding from free cash after the language was altered to allow for the funding to be used toward a grass field option as well.
Superintendent Michael Morris has not publicly addressed the recent spate of blows to the project that stipulates an artificial turf field. It remains unclear whether the Regional School Committee will rescind its original vote and allow the track and field project to proceed with a grass field instead. If it did, the ~$3.4 million that has been secured to date would be sufficient to move forward, based on preliminary estimates. The funding for the artificial turf option, on the other hand, remains far short of the necessary funding, and would also require an additional nearly $1 million in replacement and disposal costs every 8-10 years.
The Amherst Department of Public Works has included in its fiscal year 2024 budget requests new grass field maintenance equipment to better care for the approximately 80 acres of Regional Schools and Town athletic fields. Proper maintenance of artificial turf requires specialized equipment that is not currently owned or budgeted for by the Town.
Beyond Amherst, several bills that would ban or restrict artificial turf and PFAS are making their way through the Massachusetts state legislature. State Senator Jo Comerford advised the Amherst Town Council leadership late last year that a bill she is co-sponsoring would impact the proposed track and field project if it continues to include artificial turf. Similar bills are being pursued or are already in place in other states, including New York and Maine.