RAC proposes second turf field

Cost would be $1.675M; could bring in tournaments, revenue

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  • This is the rendering of the synthetic turf field proposed by the Recreation Advisory Committee.

  • Photo by Linda Smith Hancharick Bill Hemstead presented the proposal on behalf of the Recreation Advisory Committee Wednesday night at the township council meeting.


Two synthetic turf fields in West Milford - that’s the proposal by the township's Recreation Advisory Committee to the town council.

Turf field use
Prior to synthetic turf installation:
15 football games and two soccer games were played on the grass field per year.
No recreational sports or programs were allowed.
No high school sports or any groups could use the field for practice.
After installing the field:
Approximately 900 games have been played on it, both high school and recreational
In excess of 1,200 team practices have been held
Macopin School uses the field for gym classes
The high school band practices on it.
Relay for Life continues to hold its yearly event
Source: West Milford Recreation Advisory Committee

The committee gave its recommendation to the council a few weeks ago, and Wednesday night came back with a full presentation of the proposal that included building a multi-purpose field at Macopin School, adjacent to the existing artificial turf field, that would be 390 feet in each direction. This turf field would have a baseball diamond and a softball diamond built in, as well as a multi-purpose field for soccer, football, rugby, field hockey and lacrosse. The price tag - $1,675,000.

Benefits of synthetic turf
No watering
No seeding
No fertilizing
No mowing
No line striping
No game cancellations

Bill Hemstead, chairman of the committee, told the council and the public that this new field would solve the field shortage in town and bring a revenue source, allowing the township to hold tournaments and attract more people to the area.

“It’s a huge move to solving the field shortage in town,” said Hemstead. “It’s really the only way to build it in the Highlands.”

By that he meant on school district property, as the first one was built three years ago. That field has gotten tremendous use since it was built with funds the township received from a third-party developer after buying his property known as Random Woods (see box). The field could not be built on that property, so the council went to the Board of Education to use their property. The council and school board agreed to share in future costs of that field, including maintenance, repair and eventual replacement.

Council weighs in
Councilman Michael Hensley, liaison to the committee, said he is in favor of looking more into this and called the first turf field “a blessing.”

But he said he didn't always feel that way. At first, he wasn't in favor of it. After substitute teaching at Macopin, he said he saw how much it was utilized.

“I was shocked, watching the seventh and eighth graders taking gym class. It was a real eye opener,” said Hensley. “This turf field was not a mistake for this town. That first turf field has been such a blessing.”

Both Hensley and Hemstead said having an athletic complex, with the two turf fields together, would be great for West Milford.

“I don't know if this is going to happen,” said Hensley. “They're looking for $800,000. Maybe we can offer a little less. But a central sports complex, a turf baseball field, it just would be mind boggling.”

Not everyone on the council agrees with Hensley. Councilwoman CarlLa Horton has her sights set on using the $800,000 - which the town received several years ago as a redevelopment fund for the sale of a golf course - for the new library, not another athletic field.

“Although I'm not opposed to a sports complex, that $1.6 million sticks in my mind,” she said. “I’m going to fight for the money to go to the library.”

The township recently agreed to partner with the West Milford Library Board and build a floor in the new library.

The committee, though, feels this money was intended for active recreation and should be used for just that, according to Hemstead.

Councilwoman Michelle Dale said she would like to see revenue projections from the committee to back up the claim that this field could bring in traffic from other places with tournaments.

How they will pay for it

This project won’t be cheap. The committee received estimates from a turf contractor and the figure they came up with for the project is $1.675 million. Here is how they hope to pay for it: Township: $800,000 from its Redevelopment Fund

Board of Education: $525,000

Grants from the Passaic County Open Space Program

Hemstead said the township's portion could be lowered if they could get 50/50 grants. He said members of the committee have approached members of the Board of Education and received favorable responses.

Another thought

Township attorney Fred Semrau suggested another possibility. If the school board agrees to allow the field on their property, the governing body could take on the entire cost and let the district use the field during school hours. After that, it's run by the township and available to township programs first. In exchange, Semrau said maybe the school board could take over the maintenance and replacement responsibilities of the original field.

Mayor Bettina Bieri said the current turf field is utilized mostly by the school district. This proposal, though, would give the district use of the field without cost.

Hemstead said the committee looked into township-owned properties but none were large enough, including the CYO property, Kilgallen Field and the PAL.

Maintaining what's there

Hemstead said the turf field has a 10 to 15 year life expectancy before it must be replaced. The agreement for the current field was that both the township council and the board of education would put money aside each year in order to have enough to replace the current field when the time came. That's not happening, according to Bieri.

“The pitch at the time was that the town council and the board of education would put 50 percent aside over the 10 to 15 years,” Bieri said.

What's next

Hemstead said the subcommittee came to the council to get its approval to formally approach the school board with this proposal. The council agreed, and the Recreation Advisory Committee will reach out to the school board.

What are your thoughts? Do you think the township should give some or all of the $800,000 for a second turf field? Go to westmilfordmessenger.com and share your thoughts.

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