In the wake of school-community protests at a July 16 board meeting and via an online petition, the five-member board of the Woodside Elementary School District agreed in a 4-1 vote on July 19 to use natural grass on the soccer field meant for K-3 children, while leaving intact plans to cover the middle school soccer field with artificial stuff.
The soccer fields are being redone as part of a $13.3 million construction project begun last year that will also bring to the one-school district 13 new permanent classrooms, two music rooms, a computer lab, a new administration building and a community room.
Among the reasons cited by the petitioners in opposing the board's original plans for synthetic soccer fields: a simple preference for grass, the anti-environmental message a "green plastic carpet" might send to kids and other living creatures, and how such a field is "not consistent" with Woodside values.
"I'm thrilled with what the board has done," said Kristina Phipps, a parent and the author of the petition. The board acted with an open mind, she said, adding, "I think they should be commended."
Trustee Elianne Frankel-Popell opposed the compromise but would not explain her reasoning to the Almanac. "I don't want to go into the details," she said. "I am a member of the board and so I will now implement the decision of the majority. ... I don't think that (explanations are) in the best interest of moving forward."
The synthetic-grass issue appeared to reach a full boil at a meeting convened Monday, July 16, where it was standing-room-only at one point, Ms. Phipps said. A motion by two trustees to continue that discussion to a later meeting failed to win a board majority, according to district staff.
A second meeting three days later, most of which was held behind closed doors, came about "in anticipation of litigation." The matter related to the soccer fields, the school district's attorney told the Almanac before the meeting.
In explaining the board's action, President Kimberley McMorrow said in a statement that staff "had provided the board with additional financial strategies which were independent from private donations and would not necessitate dipping into the district's reserves."
In a July 4 story, the Almanac reported that the district had planned to spend $950,000 on the field upgrades, a sum composed of bond funds and a $400,000 gift from the Woodside School Foundation. Assistant Superintendent Tim Hanretty re-affirmed those figures.
Superintendent Dan Vinson, the only person the board designated as a spokesman for the decision, did not return the Almanac's calls requesting comment.
Memories of cut grass
Synthetic grass fields are popular, in part, because they don't need costly watering and don't deteriorate like grass fields do.
The online petition "Keep One WES Soccer Field Natural Grass" read simply enough: "Please reconsider the decision to install artificial turf on both soccer fields at Woodside Elementary School. We are strongly in favor of having a natural grass soccer field on campus."
Asked why she was pleased with one grass field and one synthetic, Ms. Phipps replied: "It seemed like one-and-one was actually a compromise that optimized happiness (and) utility" in a community that was also aware of the lateness of the petition.
Between Friday, July 13, when the petition went up, and Friday, July 20, 115 people signed it, including Susan Doherty, a parent of twins headed for pre-school at Woodside in September.
"I just have memories of when I walk in cut grass. It brings back memories of childhood," she said. "It is what childhood is about if you're lucky enough to live in a place where grass will grow."
Regarding the board members and their overall management of the year-long campus project, Ms. Doherty said: "I hold them in the highest regard. They've done such a fabulous job with the rest of the project, keeping it moving forward. I don't want them to feel that (because) this one issue needs to be revisited (that it) casts them in a bad light."