The bond ordinance for the synthetic turf field needed four votes to pass. It got five.
All five members of the Township Committee voted in favor of pursuing a $3.4 million bond to fund the athletic fields proposed for Dayton High School in front of a town hall meeting room overflowing with Springfield residents.
Democrats Rich Huber and Dave Amlen, who had respectively expressed skepticism about and opposition to the proposed turf field at the first hearing, explained their change of hearts before the vote.
“If this passes, it will be a field for the whole Township,” Committee member Rich Huber said. “The recreation department and the Dayton Athletic Department will run the field. It’s not just a football field. It’s not just a soccer field. It’s everything.”
Amlen, who provided the sole dissenting vote in the first hearing on the bond ordinance, said that voluminous research about artificial turf and the proposed facility’s impact on flooding in the area convinced him to support the project.
“Two weeks ago, I was the Grinch who stole Christmas,” Amlen joked. He said that after reading 30-40 studies on the health implications of turf fields, he felt more comfortable supporting the field, with the caveat that an independent commission supervise the field’s implementation. In addition, he said that learning that the proposed field could help mitigate flooding in the area also factored seriously into his decision.
Lastly, he related how, in conversation, a friend had asserted the new field would bring “unity of community,” a phrase he would return after his vote in favor of the bond ordinance.
Township engineer Todd Hay said he had studied Summit and other nearby municipalities with turf facilities. Mayor Ziad Shehady emphasized that the night’s vote was not about technical aspects of the field, but rather for pursuing a method of funding it.
Despite Shehady’s admonition, residents brought up concerns about potential toxic materials used to build turf fields. Other residents said that the school system’s academics needed more money and attention than athletics and accused township officials of ignoring residents whose homes were damaged and destroyed during tropical storm Irene.
That last charge was effectively rebutted by Shane Ronan, a Marion Street resident whose home was devastated by flooding.
“There’s nothing the town can do right now to improve the quality of life for my family than what’s on that board,” Ronan said, gesturing towards the draft sketch of plans for playing fields for the high school.
Following the vote, supporters of the turf field expressed excitement and optimism about the project.
“I could not be happier for the community,” Phil Iuliano, one of the founders of the pro-turf group the Springfield Athletic Turf Field Association, said. “It gives me such pride to be involved with such tremendous individuals and see their dedication.