School board split on turf

The Rock Hill school board is still undecided on whether to approve a roughly $1 million plan to install artificial turf and a large electronic scoreboard at District Three Stadium.

Two board members have said they're leaning toward voting for the changes, three said they're on the fence and one is against the measure. One member could not be reached for comment.

The board is expected to vote on the proposal Monday.

"I haven't heard from enough of the Rock Hill residents, be it school parents or be it just taxpayers," board member Mikki Rentschler said. "It's hard to make a decision ... when they don't pipe up."

The turf field would open the door to using the stadium for special events, graduation and football and band tournaments.

Advertising on the scoreboard could be a possible source of income for the district, said John Hair, a district associate superintendent.

If approved, the turf field could be installed by next fall.

The green

The artificial turf would cost between $650,000 and $700,000. That's more than a grass field, but maintenance costs for an artificial field are lower.

If two fields each were completely redone, one with artificial turf and one with grass, the turf field would cost about $256,000 less at the end of a 10-year period, according to figures from the district.

Mike Armour, director of operations, said if the board votes against the turf, the stadium likely will need major field work within the next 10 years, depending on the weather and the amount of use.

Money to pay for the stadium changes would come from a roughly $3 million surplus from last fiscal year.

Hair said the surplus came about because the annual budget is based on estimates.

"There's nothing you can really point to as being a tremendous contributor," he said.

The school board is considering using some of the surplus for security cameras and professional development. Even if all the proposals are approved, about $1 million could be saved.

Hair recommends keeping a two-month supply of cash in the bank because revenue for school districts doesn't come in at regular intervals like a person's paycheck. The fund balance is there to pay for operational costs when there isn't any money coming in if it is necessary.

Hair said spending some of the money on the stadium changes is a worthwhile investment because of possible advertising revenue.

Matt Lundberg, a sales manager with Daktronics, which manufactures scoreboards, said an average high school board brings in about $100,000 a year. The scoreboard would cost about $300,000 to $350,000.

At Byrnes High School in Duncan 12 ads are displayed on rotating panels attached to the scoreboard, and two companies have permanent panels. Hair and other district officials visited Byrnes while researching score boards. Advertisers there include a hospital, a car dealership, restaurants, a bank and Realtors.

Answers to lingering questions will help board members decide.

Members want to discuss details of the cost of turf versus grass maintenance, they want to know about the benefits to students outside of the football programs, and they want assurance the fields are safe and that there will be adequate money left in the fund balance.

Northwestern High Principal James Blake and Rock Hill High athletic director Billy Parker expressed their support for the artificial turf at the last school board meeting, telling board members the new type of turf is softer and safer to play on than old versions.

Several board members said they have gotten lots of e-mails and phone calls. Others said they haven't heard from enough people.

Board member Jason Silverman was ready to cast his vote in favor of the turf until a barrage of e-mails made him think otherwise.

"At some point perception becomes reality," he said. "If everybody perceives this as being a mistake then even if you do it, they'll never accept it as being beneficial and they'll never accept the numbers that you give them."

Board member Mildred Douglas said she's been asking those more familiar with sports for their take. So far, she hasn't reached a decision.

"I might come Monday night and say, 'Convince me,'" she said.