At the May 13, 2023 Annual Town Meeting, Pelham residents voted overwhelmingly in support of an advisory resolution calling for the Regional School Committee (RSC) to abandon artificial turf and instead renovate the high school track and field using natural grass.
Warrant Article 31 observed that the natural grass option costs substantially less than artificial turf in both initial and life-cycle costs. It also referenced the health, safety, and environmental risks of artificial turf and the recommendations of local boards of health against its installation. The need for improved maintenance, including budgetary resources, of all athletic fields at the middle and high schools was also noted.
According to Pelham resident Richard Seelig, several members of ANTs (Advocates for Natural Turf) spoke in support of the article, including residents who serve on (but were not speaking as representatives of) the Conservation Commission, Community Preservation Commission, Planning Board, and the Board of Health. Two speakers, one of whom is a member of the School Committee, spoke against the article; the other Pelham representative on the RSC has previously stated their opposition to the use of artificial turf.
This is the latest in a series of rejections of artificial turf by local municipal bodies. All four boards of health of the regional member towns have advised against its use. The Community Preservation Committees of Pelham and Leverett both denied funding because of the artificial turf and the Regional School District withdrew its application to Shutesbury’s committee prior to its vote.
Neither the RSC nor the Superintendent have yet to acknowledge these setbacks or explain how they will impact decision-making. In the meantime, no work on the track or field can commence until all funding has been secured. To date, approximately $3.4 million is available which is more than enough to repair the track. This more limited approach to address the most critical need was the stated plan if the funds for the larger project were not acquired by this year. The poor condition of the existing track surface has prevented competitions for several years. The $3.4M does come close to the projected cost of “Option 2” which would provide a reoriented and expanded track with a grass interior field. It is, however, at least $2 million short of the estimated cost of the artificial turf option and does not account for the nearly $1 million in replacement costs expected every decade thereafter.