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Grass to be installed at district’s new ball fields instead of turf

Ideas of artificial turf playing surfaces at the Hays and Johnson schools’ baseball and softball fields struck out Monday.

By virtue of a change order on construction at Johnson High, Hays CISD Superintendent Eric Wright chose to install natural grass on the soon-to-be constructed fields, bringing an abrupt end to a month’s long debate on the matter.

Wright’s decision came after he investigated the reasons behind placing artificial turf at Johnson High.

The Johnson High baseball and softball fields were at the heart of a months-long conversation in the community over equity in the district. Playing a major role in that discussion was Hays High’s new baseball and softball complex, which was approved by voters in the May 2017 bond.

Under voter approved language, the $3.6 million facility called for a grass playing surface. However, the board ultimately approved increasing the budget to a potential $4.4 million after parents and students advocated for a turf surface. The additional monies were to come from potential cost savings from Proposition 2 of the May bond. However, the board’s decision did not specify which surface was to be installed at Hays.

After talking with the district’s Facilities and Bond Oversight Committee, Wright said there “was no discussion one way or the other” regarding turf at Johnson High. He said the price was folded into the total cost of the new campus. He also discovered the majority of the district’s FBOC favored natural grass.

Wright said options to include turf at Hays High’s new complex would have meant doing away with permanent restroom facilities and a concession stand. Installing artificial turf surface at the Hays complex would have pushed the cost to $5.2 million.

Wright also argued  that students who plan to play at the next level might not go to a college or university with artificial turf surface, hindering their progression. Wright said “there is nothing wrong” with students learning soft skills associated with maintaining a grass and dirt playing surface.

“It’s a matter of principle and a matter of dollars, not a matter if I prefer natural grass or turf,” Wright said. “It’s just the voters spoke, the Bond Oversight Committee has spoken and we have to honor our word and do what we told people we’re going to do, so they trust us for future bond elections.

Max Cleaver, Hays CISD chief operation officer (COO), said they expected to receive the majority of the $1.272 million already spent toward installation of artificial turf at Johnson High. Cleaver added it wasn’t too late for the change order at the Johnson fields.

However, Hays CISD Board Trustee Willie Tenorio said he wanted a breakdown of the cost the district has so far incurred on placing turf at Johnson High. Trustee Teresa Tobias said she wanted to see what potential cost savings came from the change.

Trustee Holly Raymond said she was “stunned” the district was having another conversation on the playing surface. Raymond, who advocated for an artificial turf surface, said she was frustrated the district has changed its mind several times on the matter and felt the grass surface didn’t benefit students.

“I’m not used to this level of flip-flopping. We make hard decisions and we stick with them and move on,” Raymond said.

Board President Merideth Keller, however, said the decision to increase the amount for the facility was predicated on potential cost savings that might not be available.

Keller said trustees had already voted on schematics, design and the guaranteed maximum price for the facility. She believed trustees had opportunities to settle the discussion once and for all, but didn’t follow through.

“We did a disservice by continuing the conversation after we approved the CDs (Construction Documents),” Keller said. “We allowed that to happen and for that, I am sorry.”

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