The question of a donated synthetic field from Annapolis, Md., continued to trouble some residents during the Township Committee meeting Monday night.
Township Administrator David Breeden invited the Barnegat man who sought out and obtained the donation, Steve Cotton, to further explain the field’s benefit to the town.
“I install, as part of what I do, artificial fields, both professional, [college] and high school fields as well, and I’ve even done three elementary school in Toms River,” Cotton said.
Cotton is the vice president of a company that builds artificial fields and also the head of Barnegat Junior Bengals, the youth football league.
“I have contacted FieldTurf, who is the world’s largest synthetic turf company, and I asked them, ‘Look, with all the fields that I do, could you donate me one field to Barnegat?' ” Cotton said. “‘He sort of scoffed at me and said, well you realize we’re in the business of making money, and I said, well, still, what can you do for me?”
It turned out the company wanted to change its current stadium field, the Navy/Marine Corps Memorial Stadium field, to a newer model, something that is done routinely, Cotton explained at the meeting.
“It doesn’t get played on a lot, it’s a stadium field and it has an estimated six years of life left in it,” he said. “That’s when I called [Township Administrator David Breeden] and said we have a unique opportunity.”
Adding that he would be willing to donate his time to getting the field installed and recruiting some volunteers to help him out, Cotton emphasized that he acted in the best interest of his own community.
“I never made a dime on the back of this town, and I never will,” he said.
Some local residents objected, however, when they found out that though the field was donated, the township had to pay $28,000 in shipping costs in order to actually bring it to Barnegat.
“I put in an [Open Public Record Act] request,” said Rafael Adorno, who serves on Barnegat’s Board of Education and coaches football, as well. “With someone who was on the Open Space Committee, we obtained that bill list from the Open Space funds. There was no public information given out that this was going to be done. ”
Open Space Fund money can be used for the acquisition of open space as well as for the town’s recreational needs, said township officials.
“The Open Space trust funds can be used for many purposes … and acquisition and maintenance of recreation is a proper use of the funds,” Breeden said.
At the meeting Monday night, Adorno and another resident, Jake Taylor, expressed their concern that the field may lead to more expenses down the road. In addition, Taylor and Adorno both asked the township to carefully weigh potential health risks.
“The biggest concern is artificial turf is not safe for children,” said Taylor. “That, and the fact that the upkeep is so much more than the regular turf. Right next to the field where this stuff is going, $20,000 we put into the regular turf, and all we do is cut the grass. It’s not going to be safe for the children, it’s too hot to play on, and keep in mind, too, that some of the professional teams did away with it.”
The question of which kind of field is better quality is a matter of debate, with both sides offering valid perspectives, Taylor said.
All Taylor and Adorno were asking the committee at this point, they both reiterated, was to “please do your homework.”
"I’m very knowledgeable about this too,” Adorno said, citing his football and coaching background, as well as the research he has done while checking into this issue.
“Use us,” he urged the mayor and the Township Committee at the end of the meeting on Monday. “Don’t just assume that we’re out to discredit someone. Allow us to please get all the answers we’re looking for; put the information out there.”
The next day after the meeting, Breeden told Patch the township won’t be changing its plans.
“The township will move ahead with the turf installation,” Breeden said. “We have the utmost confidence in Steve Cotton, because he does this for a living, that he will be able to not only install the turf put properly maintain it. We defer to Mr. Cotton, because he’s the professional with regards to turf installation and turf management.”
“The cost to maintain a synthetic field are very minor in that it’s mainly labor-related and obviously the labor who do it would be volunteers,” Cotton said. “The problem is, with the old football field, the claims are that the field is absolutely great, but the fact is we can’t play there most of the time. A natural field has to rest, you can’t wear it out, just like your yard. And if it rains, the field would be so torn up we can’t play the game on it. We end up practicing on softball fields, so we could save the field for the game.”
Discussion of this issue will continue at the next township meeting on Monday, April 2, township officials said. Cotton said at the meeting that the man who donated the field, Regional Vice President of FieldTurf Jim Shanahan, may be able to attend one of the meetings in the near future and offer his perspective as well.
Taylor and Adorno both voiced that they plan to be there when it happens.
“I have prepared 14 questions [for him,] Adorno said. “Don’t shut us out. Keep things transparent. If you’re spending the public funds, also utilize us, because some of us are smart enough to do the homework for you.”