Stadium may get artificial turf

The grass at Rock Hill District Three stadium could be permanently green if the school board approves a proposal to install an artificial turf field.

To complete the makeover, the school board also is considering installing a large electronic scoreboard with a TV screen.

The two projects could cost as much as $1.5 million.

Artificial turf would replace the natural grass that takes weekly beatings from the multiple football teams at Rock Hill and Northwestern high schools and their marching bands. Besides the varsity games on Friday nights, ninth-grade and junior varsity teams play at the stadium on Thursday nights.

South Pointe High School has its own stadium.

"The real deal is, you can use it. You don't have to worry about it being worn out," said Jimmy Wallace, the football coach at Northwestern. "This is a tremendous positive."

John Hair, a district associate superintendent, told the school board last week that artificial turf would open up more possibilities for the stadium. The stadium could be rented for special events, marching-band competitions and football tournaments. It also could be used for graduations.

School board member Jason Silverman said he loved the idea of seeing graduates' pictures splashed across the jumbotron during the ceremony.

Money for the stadium upgrades would come from a $2.5 million to $3 million surplus from the last fiscal year. Some of the surplus also could be spent on more security cameras and staff development. But up to $1 million would be saved.

Hair said he believes the district should save as much of the surplus as possible, but he said turf is a good investment.

"The turf, I think, is in a very unique scenario in that if it's coupled with the scoreboard on which advertising is permitted, the scoreboard would over time generate a means to reimburse the initial expense and then be a revenue stream for the district," Hair said.

The turf would cost an estimated $650,000 to $700,000, and the scoreboard would cost an estimated $300,000 to $350,000.

Hair said he believes the scoreboard could bring in about $150,000 per year in advertising revenue.

Jim Vining was the only school board member to speak against spending the money on the stadium upgrades. It wasn't the changes that irked him. Vining's concern was that extra money should be saved.

Hair recommends the district keep a two-month emergency cash flow -- about $20.4 million. Right now, the fund has about $17.5 million.

If it has to be spent, Vining said, he would rather the extra money go into academics or operations.

Vining said the district should take out a separate loan to pay for the stadium upgrades if they are expected to pay for themselves.

The possibility of getting artificial turf is exciting for athletics officials at Rock Hill High and Northwestern.

"There've been years where we've played in playoff games where the turf's been kind of bare, and that's really a disadvantage to our teams," said Bill Parker, athletics director at Rock Hill High. "They deserve a little more stable playing surface."

That's what Ardrey Kell High School got when it opened in Charlotte last year.

Athletics director Cheryl Feeney said she loves being able to use the field 24/7, rain or shine.

"As an athletics director, there's so many more things we need to do," she said. "To spend so much time, labor, money on a grass field -- even though it's beautiful when there's water -- this has just helped us tremendously in upkeep of our other facilities and fields."

Michael Drummond, athletics director at South Pointe, said he's happy with the school's grass field for now.

When the time comes for the district to construct a fourth high school, building it without a stadium and laying artificial turf at South Pointe could be a possibility.

The school board is expected to vote on the turf and scoreboard Sept. 24.