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Mattituck residents will vote on turf field proposition next month

The debate over the contentious topic of a turf field for Mattituck Cutchogue Union Free School District has concluded: Next month, voters will see a ballot item to approve or reject the $1.6 million project.

Last week, the board unanimously approved a proposal to construct a turf field on the western side of the Mattituck High School property parallel to the track. The plan includes a walkway, fence, bleacher pad and fenced-in dugout near the back of the school.

The proposed construction could begin as early as fall 2019, Superintendent Jill Gierasch said, but the exact date cannot be determined until the district receives state approval.

The May budget vote will have three propositions for community members. The budget of $40.7 million for the 2019-2020 academic year is the first proposition. The capital reserve fund, Ms. Gierasch said, will be split into two propositions. The second proposition, at roughly $2 million, will tackle safety and security upgrades and air conditioning in the district. The $1.6 million turf field is the third proposition. The ballot items are not dependent upon each other, Ms. Gierasch said. Both the turf field plan and the security updates would be funded through the district’s $3.75 million capital reserve fund, meaning no money would be taken from taxpayers if the project is approved, Ms. Gierasch said.

Despite the unanimous decision on the three propositions from the board, longtime board member Douglas Cooper said he does not support the “plastic field” which will be used primarily by district soccer and lacrosse teams.

“It was not an easy choice on my part,” he said Tuesday, regarding the decision. “We’re not opposed to letting the voter decide, but that’s the only reason I voted yes on it.”

The Turf Advisory Committee, formed in February 2019 and spearheaded by athletic director Greggory Wormuth, aims to research, prepare and present specific information about constructing a field to the school board. He said the committee consists of 12 local stakeholders, district and board members who pitched the $1.6 million proposal to the board last Wednesday.

TAC member Martin Finnegan, who has children in the district, said the group began its research by looking into the health and safety concerns associated with turf fields, including chemical exposure and cancer-causing agents.

The TAC took in board and community member comments and looked at national and state studies to tackle additional safety and environmental concerns. The group determined a turf field has a positive environmental impact because it conserves water, is made with recycled tires and eliminates the need for pesticides and fertilizers, Mr. Wormuth said.

Mr. Cooper, who rejected an invitation to join the committee after he discovered Mr. Wormuth was leading the group, said using recycled rubber is not environmentally friendly because it will still end up in a landfill.

“That’s a bogus argument,” he said. “When these plastic fields wear out, where do they go? They go back into the landfill.”

Outside travel teams that aren’t associated with the district might utilize the field, Mr. Cooper said. The superintendent said the district’s current policy does not allow outside parties to pay for usage of any district property, but Mr. Cooper said he believes those teams should pay the district to use the field if they do in the future.

Mr. Wormuth said of the 53 school districts that participate in high school sports in Suffolk County, 43 of those school districts have a turf field.

“It’s the norm, and some of these school districts are considering where they’re putting the second or third field, [as] the first is done,” he said Monday.

Superintendent Gierasch said a community member has plans to donate roughly $200,000 to offset the cost of the turf field. If the donor follows through with the plan, she said, it would not impact the $1.6 million on the budget vote — but could be processed back into the capital reserve fund for future projects.

Prior to the May 21 budget vote, the district plans to lead information sessions about the turf field. Ms. Gierasch said she’s met with members of the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association and an upcoming presentation will be held at the Cutchogue Fire Department.

“We just want people to understand that they are separate propositions. I think the board felt pretty strongly that they heard that people wanted to separate it into two propositions, and they agreed to that,” she said.

The district also has plans to meet with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County April 3 to enhance the quality of the existing natural grass fields.

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