Public Comment: Regional School Leaders Need To Start Listening And Stop Delaying On Improving The Track & Field


Proposed options 2 and 3 for renovation of the high school track and athletic fields involve relocating the track to a north/south orientation and installing a new playing field inside the track of either natural grass (option 2) or synthetic turf (option 3). The soft ball diamond is not part of the plan. Photo:

The following public comment was submitted to the Regional School Committee for their meeting on May 30, 2023. It is followed by an update reporting on what happened at the meeting following Public Comment

My name is Maria Kopicki and I live in Amherst. I am making public comment today about the track and field project that your agenda indicates will be discussed tonight.

Since this committee last addressed this project publicly, a number of important developments have occurred. 

The Boards of Health of Leverett and Shutesbury have joined those in Amherst and Pelham in advising against the use of artificial turf for the field at the high school. That means that the Boards of Health of all four member towns of the Regional School District have recommended that the project be amended to use natural grass instead of artificial turf. They cited the negative impacts on human health as well as environmental and climate concerns in their reasoning.

The Community Preservation Committee of Leverett joined that of Pelham in denying funding to the project because of the artificial turf. These bodies have both indicated that they would welcome a revised application that uses natural grass instead. The day before the Shutesbury CPC was to take a vote about its funds, the Regional School District withdrew its application. That means that since the public and municipal leaders became aware of the many serious problems with  artificial turf, the only funding that has been approved for the renovation of the high school track and field, the nearly $1M of free cash from Amherst, stipulated that it could be used for natural grass.

Most recently, Pelham Town Meeting passed a resolution that the Town of Pelham does not support the use of artificial turf for the proposed track and field project and asked that its representatives on the Regional School Committee support the town’s wishes by voting to proceed with a natural grass option only.

At the request of the Amherst DPW, the Amherst Town Manager has included in this year’s budget significant funding for much needed maintenance equipment that will allow them to better care for regional and town athletic fields. The concerns of the students and the community have been heard and are being heeded.  

The case against artificial turf and PFAS continues to grow and legislation that will ban these products continues to gain ground at the state level and nationally. The financial case against artificial turf is likewise mounting as costs increase while the stalled project waits for millions of dollars to appear. 

I hope that tonight’s update will be a recommendation to pivot to a solution that is possible now, that is, a natural grass field, so that student athletes can begin to benefit as soon as possible from a much needed improvement in their facilities including the replacement of the running track. We need to move forward with a fiscally responsible project that puts the health of the people and the environment at the forefront.

UPDATE: A Report On The Meeting

There was no acknowledgement or discussion of the advice of all four local Boards of Health against the installation of artificial turf. 

It was not reported that the reason for the denial of CPA funds by Leverett and Pelham was because of artificial turf and it was not reported that they would welcome a revised application that specified a grass field. The total CPA funding totaled almost a quarter million dollars. 

There was no report to the RSC to explain why the district withdrew the CPA application to Shutesbury right before their vote.

There was no acknowledgement that funding for the resurfacing of the track has been in hand for more than a year or that a grass field option could be pursued now with available funding.

There was no answer to the question of how much fundraising has been secured to date.

There was no discussion about how long the district is willing to delay making improvements to the track and field while it waits for the nearly $2M an artificial field would require.

There was no discussion about how the district might pay for the nearly $1M replacement/disposal costs every 10 years or for the maintenance equipment and monitoring for contaminants necessary with an artificial turf field.

There was no acknowledgement of the mounting evidence of artificial turf’s risks or pending legislation that would ban it and other PFAS-containing products.

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1 thought on “Public Comment: Regional School Leaders Need To Start Listening And Stop Delaying On Improving The Track & Field

  1. Thank you Maria. School Committee Members please use the accurate research and votes of the Boards of Health and move forward supporting natural grass for the High School track snd field project.
    An additional step to include would be contacting the UMass Turf Grass Science and Management Program. We do have the resource in town and it could build town gown relationships.

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