Reader Says Artificial Turf Stadium a Bad Idea for Nyack School District

To the Editor,

On October 29, 2013, voters in the Nyack School District will have to decide once again whether or not to permit the School District to borrow money to build an artificial turf stadium at the Nyack High School. The resolution, if passed, will permit the District to issue bonds and borrow and spend $26.3 million dollars on building improvements throughout the District, including almost $8 million dollars on a new artificial turf stadium at the high school, complete with 2000 stadium seats, a state-of-the-art press box, new lighting and concession buildings. Voters should reject the resolution and vote NO on October 29.

The District already has a 1700 seat natural grass stadium a few blocks away at McCalman Field. The District has been neglecting the grass there, spending only a portion of its allocated budget on field maintenance. In the last few reported years, the District has been allocating $45,000 per year for field maintenance and only spending a small fraction of that amount, sometimes less than 15% of the allocation. If the District maintained the grass fields properly, it would have no need to install artificial turf or build a new stadium. And, the existing field is right in the heart of Nyack with many attendees walking to the games or parking on neighborhood streets. There is not enough parking at the high school for 2000 guests, the players, the staff, and the visiting team.

The District is finally poised to pay off all its existing debt in the next year or two, and should not immediately plunge taxpayers back into 15 more years of payments. Estimates of the cost to repay the principal and interest on the new debt exceed $2,000,000 per year for the next 15 years, and may be more if interest rates rise before the District borrows the money. The old debt should be retired and new debt rejected. Taxpayers can use a break on their school taxes, especially as town and county taxes skyrocket. And, even if the District does not give taxpayers relief when the old debt is retired, that $2,000,000 per year in savings can help re-hire fired teachers and staff or enhance the academic programs in the District. Why are we considering an artificial turf stadium when we are still laying off teachers?

Five years ago, voters in Nyack agreed to establish a capital improvement fund and we now have over $5,000,000 saved for necessary improvements and safety enhancements. The District has structured the bond resolution so as to prevent the community from using that money unless and until the voters agree to a new artificial turf stadium. This is neither reasonable nor fair. Safety improvements should not be held hostage to artificial turf. Whose interest does the District serve when it says we can only be safe in our elementary and middle schools if the high schoolers get to play sports on artificial turf?

When the voters say NO on October 29th, the District will come around and make the improvements and upgrades that are actually necessary. We have the money in our capital fund to fix our schools. That is what happened when Nyack voters rejected artificial turf six years ago. The District’s threats that students would go without if the bond failed were just empty threats. Nyack voters rejected an unnecessary bond and an unnecessary turf field six years ago when the economy was strong. They should do so again, especially when we are just at the beginning of a fragile and uncertain economic recovery. This is not the time to take on excessive debt. This is not the time to raise taxes. And, it is certainly not the time to consider artificial turf.

Sincerely,

Rick Tannenbaum
Valley Cottage

Comments

  1. Now the truth from a Bond supporter.

    As a parent of three children in the Nyack School District, as a homeowner and taxpayer in the District for the past 15 years, as one who was born and raised in Nyack by parents who were also both born and raised here, and as a Nyack High School graduate, I feel compelled to publicly express my views in favor of the Nyack Schools Bond Referendum scheduled for a public vote on October 29.
    This bond referendum provides our community with $26.4 million worth of essential projects for an actual local budget debt of about $12.4 million ($9 million of the total project cost will be paid by the State and $5 million will come from the Capital Reserve Fund), at a time when interest rates are at or near their historic lows, all with no tax increase at all. It is a home run for all of us.
    I encourage all those who are not personally familiar with all the facts to use the resources available to permit a reasoned personal decision based on those facts. I also urge all those who support the referendum, as I do, to not become part of a complacent “silent majority” and instead to implement your support with a positive vote on October 29.

    The Facts
    The Bond Referendum is the culmination of a seven-month process through which approximately 40 diverse community members and staff volunteers serving on a Citizens Advisory Committee thoroughly assessed the District’s facilities’ needs and the feasibility of necessary improvements. These committee members and the School Board did not arrive at some hasty decision to waste our money and damage the environment, as the vocal opponents have been insinuating. No, this dedicated and diverse group of fellow residents and taxpayers did their homework, and then some. The District web site contains the straightforward, content-neutral facts and research underlying the proposal (http://www.nyackschools.org/), including a written list of the projects, a comprehensive Q&A on all issues, etc.

    Why Do I Support the Referendum?
    1. The capital projects proposed to be funded are fundamentally necessary. They include improvements to the fire safety and emergency lighting systems, HVAC systems, technology and security systems, electrical and plumbing systems, roofing, windows, doors, drainage, flooring, and athletic fields. We cannot wait any longer to undertake these projects.
    2. The proposal completes all these projects, but remarkably will not result in any tax levy increase at all. This is an amazing achievement which will likely never be possible again in the future if we wait.
    3. The improvements will have the added benefit to all taxpayers of maintaining or increasing our property values. Put another way, permitting the continued degradation of school infrastructure is a sure way to increase future maintenance, repair, and replacement costs while also decreasing our property values by making the District simply undesirable.
    4. Once completed, these capital projects are expected to eliminate millions of dollars of ongoing repair and maintenance costs. This savings directly benefits the annual operating budgets and so frees up that money for future tax relief, educational programming, etc.

    How Can There be No Tax Increase and Why is Now the Time for This Project?
    Contrary to the innuendo disseminated by the vocal opponents of the bond, the fact is that the bond will simply not result in any tax levy increase. In fact, not passing this bond referendum could very well end up raising our taxes in the short term, as the costs to repair and replace individual projects this bond will pay for would instead have to be paid from the operating budget and, in an emergency situation, will surely cost more.

    One might reasonably ask, “How can there be no tax increase?” The “fiscal stars” are aligned for this project right now. If we wait, this opportunity to complete these projects with no tax levy increase will likely be gone forever, particularly given the 2% tax levy cap. Here’s why:

    1. Existing bonds from years ago are being retired over the next few years and the money being spent on the new projects is coordinated to replace that debt as it is retired, so there is no increase in existing debt service. It’s like signing a lease on a new car after the old lease expires, only here, you get to drive a new car for the same price as the old one.
    2. The District has already responsibly put aside $5 million in the capital reserve fund for this exact purpose. This is not some contingency or emergency fund not meant to be touched. It is money saved for this purpose precisely. So, $5 million of the $26.4 million budget has already been saved and is ready for this very project right now.
    3. The State will pay 37.6% of allowable costs. So, about $9 million of the $26.4 million budget is being paid from Albany. There is no guarantee this money will be available in the future. We need to secure that massive benefit while we can.
    4. Interest rates are still at or near their historic lows. While the district has conservatively illustrated the interest rates on these bonds at 4.5%, current bond rates are actually around 3%-3.5% and most bond experts do not forecast bond rates to rise very quickly. Accordingly, the actual costs to borrow on our bonds will likely be even lower than the District has estimated.
    Why Do I Support the Upgrade to Turf Fields?
    The vast majority of the Bond Referendum is addressed to funding many necessary capital projects, yet the vocal opponents focus on the singular issue of the artificial turf. Accordingly, even though it is only one part of the Referendum, I will address it directly.

    There is one thing the vocal opponents cannot reasonably dispute: our fields are a mess and require replacement one way or the other. Our children are forced onto poor, hard, uneven, dangerous surfaces which cause injuries and provide limited availability with increased maintenance costs. So, the choice is between grass or turf. Grass costs only about $900,000 less than turf, but turf provides 2,000-3,000 hours of playability per year while grass provides only between 300 and 816 hours. Think about that for a second – the difference is enormous, and all those drastically increased hours of playability would all be on a pristine turf field without bare spots laced with pebbles, mud puddles, or “ankle breakers” (small hidden holes in the grass).

    What About Safety and the Environment?

    I encourage anyone with questions about safety or the environment to simply go to the Q&A posted on the District web site, read all the scientific articles cited, and make up your own mind based on the facts. I know I am fully satisfied by what I have read. I have three children, ages 12, 9 and 5 and trust me when I say I would not support something I believed even for a second to be unsafe for my own children, let alone others.

    Further, although I am admittedly not an engineer or scientist, I am an environmental attorney. This proposed project was thoroughly reviewed under the rigorous requirements of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”). By law, the School Board members were compelled to thoroughly examine all of the potential adverse environmental impacts of the project. The District received detailed input and involvement from other involved municipalities (including the Village of Upper Nyack whose Board members and engineer participated significantly in the SEQRA process). Our diverse collection of elected School Board members did their jobs: they reviewed the research, took the required hard look at the environmental issues, and unanimously determined that there would be no significant negative impact on the environment.

    The Board we have all elected is a truly diverse group in just about every sense, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and different ends of the political spectrum. Despite all their differences, they have one thing in common: they care deeply about our children and our community. They unanimously agreed on this project, which should speak volumes to all of us as to its merits.

    I believe the time is now for this project and I hope you agree, but please don’t take my word for it, or the word of others. Read the objective, non-biased facts and make up your own minds.

    Sincerely,
    David MacCartney
    Upper Nyack N.Y.