The call for a turf field came from parents, who said Riverhead's lacrosse teams are at a disadvantage when stacked up against other schools who have turf fields allowing extended practice seasons. File photo: George Faella

To turf or not to turf?

The last time this question came about was four years ago. Riverhead School District’s budget vote had a separate 2015_0501_turf_fieldproposition to add two turf fields along with a new gymnasium. The measure failed and the discussion has been tabled ever since. But after a brutal winter which forced many sport teams to practice elsewhere or indoors for an extended period of time, parental pressure got the discussion going again and a proposition to fund a turf field will be up for a vote May 19.

The projected  cost of the field is $1.2 million, with a debt service of $140,000 or less for each of the next 10 years.

“I don’t think we had the support four years ago,” Riverhead athletic director Bill Groth said. “But this year a lot of parents have really stepped up. After this unprecedented spring, at least in my 25 years, a lot of parents have voiced their interest in installing a turf field.”

Plans call for relocating the bus barn, now located smack in the middle of  the athletic complex, to Edwards Avenue. The freed-up area could then be used for athletic purposes.

“We also want to move the portables on the middle school practice field and then scalp it and turn it into a full field,” Groth said.

Currently, the “bowl” as the field is referred to around the district, sinks down in the middle. So when it rains, that water just doesn’t drain. It also fails to be regulation size. The boundary line nearly hits the fence.

“This is what we’re working with,” Riverhead boys lacrosse coach Vic Guadagnino said.

The corner of the field being used for lacrosse this spring runs into a 6-foot chain-link fence. Photo: Michael Hejmej

The proposal would give more space to the middle school athletic field. Because as it stands, both softball and baseball share the same outfield. Home games can’t be scheduled on the same day. Moving the portables would allow the baseball backstop to be moved back some.

“From the bus barn to Harrison (Avenue) would be dedicated to improving athletic facilities,” Groth said. “We need it. There’s no doubt we need it. If you look at all the opponent schools we play against, we’re a AA school and AA schools, according to the state, are … the largest schools in New York state and our facilities right now have to grow to adapt to that.”

Andrew Fitzpatrick, the father of Riverhead lacrosse standout Austin, walked along the practice-turned-game field and pointed out the safety issues.

Photo: Michael Hejmej
Photo: Michael Hejmej

“There’s a drain on the field, sprinkler heads stick out, the stands are too close, the lines aren’t even straight, it’s not even a regulation size field,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve been living in this community for 15 years and they haven’t spent one dime on these fields since I’ve been here.”

Though the football field, where the lacrosse team usually plays, is getting a facelift with new stands and sod —which Fitzpatrick said was long overdue — Riverhead has had to make do with the temporary field, underscoring  the need for an all-purpose, all-weather field.

“The West Islips, the Eastport-South Manors, the Sachem Easts and Norths were all practicing when there was snow on the grass and the sun was out, the turf fields were plowed or just melted off,” Fitzpatrick said. “So a lot of our competition in lacrosse alone has maybe 15 to 20 days of practice under their belt when we were forced inside to play in small gymnasiums because we don’t have the field. That’s baseball, that’s softball, and that’s boys and girls lacrosse.”

Riverhead lacrosse head coach Vic Guadagnino had to schedule his first five games away because the field just wasn’t ready to play on.

Photo: George Faella
Photo: George Faella

“What a turf field does for all spring sports is extraordinary,” Guadagnino said. “We’re so far behind these kids from other towns. All our rivals are on turf. It would put us on an even playing field. Our kids fight through a lot of stuff and overcome a lot of things and we’re not a place that whines and complains about things. We’re survivors out here. But just think about how much better our kids will be if they’re actually practicing on turf from the start of the season —turf that almost all the kids in the county are playing on now.”

One member of the community, who asked to remain anonymous because he has grandchildren in the district, said he doesn’t see a need for a turf field.

“I see no reason for it,” he said. “I’ve heard coaches that come to Riverhead and have commented positively about the fact that Riverhead has a grass field. Given these financial times, I can’t see us spending the money for it.”

There’s an argument that maintenance costs will be lower with the turf field.

“I don’t buy it,” he said. “From what I understand, turf fields have to be vacuumed and cleaned and that for sure isn’t free.”

School board member Lori Hulse, who oversaw the maintenance costs for the fields this spring, is in favor of putting turf in.

“A turf field isn’t a cheap investment,” Hulse said. “However, if you look what’s required to maintain the grass fields with snow removal and over saturation of the fields and the money we had to spend to send our kids to practice at other locations, it makes sense to put a turf field in. I’ve been told that there’s maintenance costs involved with a turf field but it will in no way outweigh the cost to maintain our grass fields especially this year.”

Former school board president Angela DeVito thinks any extra money should be going toward educational expenses rather than a turf field.

“Though I appreciate the need and importance of sports in the lives of the students in our schools, the turf field is something that parents that are sports parents have wanted for a very long time,” Devito said. “And I really don’t have an objection to turf fields per se; I like natural fields better. But if that’s what they want, that’s it.  I do have to 2015_0501_practice_field_2say that it makes me very sad to think that we can go out for a bond for a turf field where we go out and spend a special reserve yet we never really have enough money in the budget to provide the students in our schools with the books and supplies they need. I would rather the school district go out and get a reserve fund for educational purposes.”

As Groth looked over the temporary lacrosse field he declared, “This is the student-athlete’s classroom and you want to make it as sightly and safe as possible. The design of this campus is really old. Some of these buildings go back to the twenties, others go back to seventies so really now in 2015 we’re saying that we can do it better and to me, it’s time. The time is now.”



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