By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – With the future of the Bedford North Lawrence athletic facilities under discussion, the North Lawrence Community Schools board listened to presentations from engineers and synthetic turf experts during its meeting on Thursday night.
The decision to hire Woolpert Engineering, the first step toward adding turf to the football, softball and baseball fields at BNL, was tabled by a unanimous vote until the next meeting on Aug. 6. That’s when the next move toward the much-needed improvements is expected to take place.
The entire project under consideration totals over $5 million, which also includes HVAC, roofing and security upgrades for elementary buildings. But the main focus centers on the transition to synthetic turf for the football stadium, turf for the baseball infield, and turf for the softball field.
The money for the projects would be paid for by a bond issue. Taxes would not increase. The board has already passed resolutions to pave the way for the bond.
The cost of turf (approximately $1 million for football, $400K for the baseball infield and leveling of the natural-grass outfield, and $300-600K for softball, depending if the entire field is done or if improvements are limited to the infield) would total less than half the bond issue.
The benefits are important. The football field is currently used for only 75 hours per year to minimize wear on the grass. With turf, the field could be used over 1,000 hours per year for other activities, including classes, band competitions, and practice sessions. It would also eliminate the cost of year-round maintenance for the sparsely-used field.
BNL, with work currently being done at Jeffersonville, is the only team in the Hoosier Hills Conference to maintain a grass surface for football. Turf would represent the largest athletic expenditure since the construction of the auxiliary gymnasium.
”It would be huge,” BNL football coach Steve Weber said of the possible switch. “It would give the kids something to be proud of. The facilities need a major upgrade, and a little extra pride would go a long way to get more numbers, get junior high kids excited. That’s huge.
”The field we practice on is too small for the team to get everything done. The amount of days we miss because the field is too wet, or we have to come inside, adds up. Now it won’t hurt, it won’t tear up the field, and it frees up gym space on a rainy day.”
Woolpert engineers Todd Ford and James Dobrozsi explained the process, which starts with surveys and permits, soil tests, designing the layouts and securing the project. That usually takes less than 60 days.
Stephen Torbeck of Motz Group – one of the leading synthetic field companies in the Midwest – then explained the construction side, including the types of turf available. The field would come with an 8-year warranty and a life expectancy of 10-12 years before replacement of the top level of plastic and rubber particles would be necessary. The cost of replacing the fields every decade would be about half the original costs of installation.
From a long-term standpoint, upgraded facilities would give BNL the opportunity to host more events, including band invitationals and state competitions, and softball tournaments for travel teams. The football field could also be converted for soccer. Turf fields can be used just minutes after rain, since the fields are designed for maximum, swift drainage.
“There are so many upsides,” Weber said.
”It’s going to allow us to host tournaments, kids all the way up to high school, and you don’t have to worry about the wear and tear,” BNL softball coach Brad Gilbert said. “More people will be able to use it.
“Dirt is always the issue, because you can’t play with standing water in the infield. It’s so dangerous to run the bases. You don’t want to see an athlete get hurt because the basepaths are too slick.”
BNL’s conference and local neighbors have already made the upgrades. Jennings County, Jeffersonville, Madison and Brownstown recently added turf for football, while Bloomington North and South are now adding turf for baseball and softball. Seymour recently completed its projects for football, soccer and other sports.
“When you look at other schools sinking money into facilities, they’re nice,” Weber said. “They‘ve realized the importance of making things nice for the kids. It’s for everyone, and they deserve it.”
“We are looking to the future,” NLCS superintendent Dr. Ty Mungle told the board.