After several months of discussion regarding potential middle school practice fields, the USD 443 Board of Education voted to move forward with a two-field concept. The decision involves the construction of two practice and play fields east of Dodge City Middle School and Soule Elementary.

"We talked to coaches to get their input," GLMV architect Tom P. Montgomery said at the Jan. 29 meeting. "They were interested in lessening the need to go to St. Mary of the Plains and did suggest that at least one field had artificial turf. The consensus was these fields would be used."

While the district has been in desperate need of additional play and practice space for years, the discussion initially began when the issue of removal of fill dirt generated by the construction projects arose.

The district has approximately 30,000 to 50,000 yards of dirt and was quoted a price of $10 a yard to haul it from the grounds. That’s an estimated cost of up to $500,000.

"That’s quite a bit of money," Montgomery said during the discussion at the December board meeting. "We have plenty of dirt to do one field but does it make sense to do a second field? If we have this [dirt] and we’re able to leverage the cost of amenities, does that make sense?"

However, at that meeting, the board requested additional information, generating the discussion with the district’s coaches. GLMV Architecture presented the board with several prices, starting with a base cost, including extending the fence, soccer field for P.E., and parking, estimated at $1.7 million.

However, it would save the district a possible $500,000 to haul the dirt. Montgomery presented additional options that came from the coaches meeting.

"Looking at Red and Blue Field, if we could have an area on the south part reconditioned as a soccer field, it would fit right in and would really help Comanche," Montgomery said. "It would really be an asset."

It would retain the baseball field but grade an additional area to be utilized as a soccer practice field and physical education. That concept could also include bathroom facilities by Soule, as well as storage for equipment.

"It would cost approximately $200,000 for storage and toilets at Soule because we already have the plumbing," Montgomery said.

The board opted not to include a soccer practice areas south of Red and Blue Field, or the bathroom and storage facilities at this time.

Another option presented was the use of synthetic turf on one or both of the fields. Cost of artificial turf on the north field would be an additional $500,000.

Board member Pamela Preston questioned the life expectancy and safety of synthetic turf. Montgomery explained the average is 10 years and that the current product is as close to natural ground as possible, because of the sub-structure.

"Is this going to be accessible to the community; because wear and tear on natural turf or artificial would make a difference," Preston added.

According to Dr. Fred Dierksen, Superintendent of Schools, the intention was to make the facilities open to the community so they can be utilized by as many people as possible. Montgomery said if the board opts to also use artificial turf on the south field, it would be an additional cost of roughly $600,000.

"You’re talking about an extra million dollars to turf it," Preston asked. "So you think sodding, watering and mowing are more expensive."

Dierksen said an extensive study on the difference between natural grass and artificial turn was done and is something the board has debated in the past.

"I’m not going to say it’s even [in comparing the cost of artificial to natural] but after 10 years, you’re going to be close," Executive Director of Business and Operations William Hammond said. "On heavy use fields, you end up with ruts if they’re not synthetic. You just can’t maintain natural turf with heavy use."

Preston asked if the district was in ‘desperate need’ of those fields. Dodge City High School Principal Jacque Feist, who attended the coaches meeting, said both middle schools require two practice fields for soccer in order not to have to travel.

However, the changes to Red and Blue Field would also have to be completed in order to avoid busing students to the St. Mary of the Plains complex.

"Comanche is okay for P.E. but it is Dodge City Middle School who lost all of their outdoor P.E. area due to construction," Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Tami Knedler said.

After Preston questioned the board’s readiness to move forward on the decision, board president Lisa Killion said she would personally like to reach a decision as the issue had been discussed for months.

"From what I’m hearing, I think we are ready for the two-field concept," Dierksen said. "What we know is we need real fields; the big decision is how many will be synthetic turf. The dirt is there and we have to have the fields."

In the past, board member Jeff Hiers has made his intention of never voting for a natural turf well known.

"I am in the same camp as Jeff that synthetic turf is the way to go so I would like to see a motion to move forward with the north and south field," Killion said.

The motion passed 4-1, with Preston voting against and Hiers not in attendance.