<b>Pulaski school board approves application for turf football fields</b>

File photo i cj

The football fields at Pulaski County High School, above, and Southwestern High School are getting new turf pending approval from the Kentucky Department of Education.

More than six years after a previous slate of members scrapped plans to turf the district's two high school football fields, the Pulaski County Board of Education voted Tuesday evening to get that project rolling again.

The school board unanimously approved a BG-1 -- the document school districts submit to get the Kentucky Department of Education's consent for construction or renovation projects -- for "Pulaski County Athletic Upgrades."

"I'm excited for our community and our schools that our board is forward thinking and ready to move forward with a turf project for our high schools," Superintendent Patrick Richardson said Thursday.

The proposed project entails reconstruction of the track and field facilities at both Pulaski County High School and Southwestern High School including the replacement of existing grass football fields with synthetic turf as well as new cushioned track surfaces.

To move forward with the project, board members had to first rescind a BG-1 on the books from 2015. Back then Supt. Richardson was an assistant charged with overseeing district facilities. The then-$1.8 million project made it all the way to the point that a contract was about to be awarded in May of that year when then-board members split 3-2 against approval of a revised BG-1. Those voting against the project at the time cited budget concerns but ultimately agreed to laying new sod on both fields in time for the next season.

Certainly the cost has not gone down in the intervening years. The new BG-1 estimates a total project cost of $4.275 million, but Supt. Richardson is quick to note that's just an "educated guess" that could likely come down some once the project is ready to bid out -- hopefully next January. In addition to general cost increases over time, Richardson noted that costs are currently a quarter to a third higher than they might have been due to COVID-related supply chain shortages. Another expense that was not included in the 2015 project is an underpad -- estimated at $150,000 per field -- that should lengthen the life of the turf as well as soften the impact when students land on it.

While the project will mostly be funded through a General Fund bond sale, $1 million in federal ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding has been allocated for track replacement.

Richardson went on to say that the project is long overdue for both schools, which hadn't seen new sod since 2015. Both tracks are also more than 20 years old, with the superintendent noting that the district had been advised they would need to redo the subsurface on them the last time they were resurfaced.

While Supt. Richardson said it wasn't a factor in deciding to move forward with the needed upgrades, House Bill 563 -- the currently contested law which would allow "open borders" for students to attend any district starting next year -- may result in the fields becoming a selling point to attract student athletes.

"We want to have facilities that are great for our students," Supt. Richardson said, adding that another benefit will be that more groups will be able to use the fields. "We try to protect the fields right now because of the damage that is caused to grass fields; we try to limit the use of them for mostly football. We're going to be able to allow more groups the new turf fields more often."

As examples, Richardson said the turf fields would be lined for soccer and could even be used for baseball and softball on bad-weather days.

"We want to work with our local youth football leagues to have them playing on those surfaces on the weekends," he added. "I'd encourage our middle school teams to play on those fields as well. It's not just a football project, and it's not going to be just a football field. Our goal, and I feel the goal of the board members, is to provide a venue for multiple opportunities for our students."

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