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‘Mini-stadium’ with artificial turf likely at Middletown Area High School

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 11/28/18

A new artificial turf “mini-stadium” used mostly for soccer and field hockey could be in place at Middletown Area High School by August 2020.

The school board during its Nov. 20 …

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‘Mini-stadium’ with artificial turf likely at Middletown Area High School

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A new artificial turf “mini-stadium” used mostly for soccer and field hockey could be in place at Middletown Area High School by August 2020.

The school board during its Nov. 20 meeting voted to support an option presented by consulting architects Architerra for a 759-seat stadium to be constructed in the southeast corner of the campus, upon a site now referred to as fields 3 and 4.

The board now awaits Architerra coming back with alternate options that could reduce the current $3.2 million estimated cost of the new stadium. The new stadium is not expected to go out for bid until sometime in 2019.

The school district must also obtain land development plan approvals for the new stadium from Lower Swatara Township.

The site would be on the other side of parking in front of the high school, in the corner of the campus formed by where North Union Street passes over the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Some board members — most vocally Christopher Lupp and John A. Ponnett Jr. — are pushing to get rid of some items to lower the $3.2 million estimated price tag.

“Everybody agrees we want it nice,” Lupp said. “But I don’t think all of us agree that we need shrubbery, that we need ornamental fencing. I want to strip some of this out.”

Ponnett said taxes will have to go up, especially as the district moves forward with a reconfiguring of elementary schools expected to include constructing a new building, and renovating existing ones.

“Lighting is a given, it doesn’t make sense” to build the stadium without it, Ponnett said. “But where I start to wonder is, support buildings for three quarters of a million dollars? There are things we can pick and choose on, to be a little bit more responsible on the taxpayer side.”

However, board member Melvin A. Fager Jr. said an earlier board’s zeal to cut costs in building the new high school led to things being taken out that should have been included, such as proper acoustics for the auditorium.

The district ended up having to correct such deficiencies after the fact, at a higher cost to taxpayers, he said.

“I’m a fan of doing it right the first time. I’ve learned my lessons over the years, especially with this school,” Fager noted.

Consulting Architect Dave Horn with Architerra pledged to come back with options showing some features removed.

The board might choose to go with one of these lower-cost options, or it could decide to add some of the items back in before the stadium goes out for bid in 2019, Horn said.

He added he would “sharpen my pencil” regarding lowering Architerra’s own fee.

The board in opting for the field at the high school chose not to support an option that Architerra also presented for installing artificial turf at War Memorial Field.

No one on the board advocated that the district can afford the up-front cost of artificial turf on both the new field and at War Memorial Field, where proposed renovations were estimated at just less than $2.3 million.

If it is to be one or the other, board members thought it made more sense to have artificial turf at the high school, where most of the students who use it will be.

Installing artificial turf at War Memorial Field would allow the field to better sustain increased usage. But doing so would increase transportation costs to bus students from the high school campus to War Memorial Field at Fink Elementary School in Middletown.

The added transportation costs were not reflected in the estimated costs that were presented by Architerra, Horn told the board.

The condition of War Memorial due to how much the natural grass field is used has been a district concern for some time.

But Horn noted that the new mini-stadium at the high school will relieve War Memorial of much of this burden.

The new venue can support many more events, as synthetic turf handles the punishment better than natural grass, and is less expensive to maintain, Horn said.

War Memorial will still be the main venue for the varsity high school football team. However, War Memorial needs about $60,000 for resodding and for some work on the field crown to be up to the job in 2019, district Director of Operations William Meiser told the board.

Besides field hockey and soccer, the new mini-stadium could be used for junior varsity and youth football, such as the Middletown Youth Football and Seven Sorrows Youth Football games.

The field could also support marching band practice and physical education classes, according to a breakdown of usage presented by Architerra.

The new field will also support lacrosse, were the district to go in that direction, Horn said.

The district also sees the new field as a venue that can be rented out to raise revenue — one of the reasons to keep lighting in the plan, besides overall safety.

The district has rejected offers to use its fields for tournaments due to concerns regarding overuse of the grass, district Chief Financial Officer David Franklin has said.

But the artificial turf mini-stadium could play host to Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association playoff games.

Installing artificial turf at the new mini-stadium is much more expensive up-front than installing natural grass — $1.8 million vs. $540,075, according to Architerra.

But once installed, maintenance costs for artificial turf would be much less — $4,750 a year compared to $34,508 a year for a new natural grass field.

Even after factoring in replacing the artificial turf after eight years at a cost of $470,500, total maintenance costs over 16 years would be less for the man-made stuff — $546,500 compared to $616,905 for natural grass, according to Architerra.