Voters sack turf, $5.95M project in Westmoreland

Published Feb 9, 2018 at 12:00pm

WESTMORELAND — A proposed $5.95 million capital project for the Westmoreland school district, involving various upgrades to buildings and facilities, was rejected Thursday by district voters by a 2-to-1 margin.

The tally was 317 “no” votes and 157 “yes” votes, said district School Business Official Mark Kennedy.

Among project steps sought were upgrades to the high school’s boiler system, fire alarm and communications systems, handicapped accessibility, gym heating and ventilation system, and parking lot drainage near the bus garage; bus garage renovations; and installation of artificial turf and lights on the football field.

Regarding factors in the voting, the proposed turf field “was the controversial item...on the building project list,” Kennedy said today. Estimated construction costs for the turf and lights totaled about $1.7 million or about 28 percent of the overall project cost.

Kennedy noted “a lot of things going...on Facebook” involving issues with the turf field. He said he did not know “if it was the cost...if it was the water” in terms of concerns that may have prompted voters’ opposition.

The football field is atop part of the aquifer for the local water supply, explained Kennedy, and some people were concerned about the impact of chemicals relating to the turf. But he said studies have shown there would not be an effect.

Because of the field’s location over the aquifer, the district “cannot do weed control or fertilize” the current grass field, Kennedy commented. The turf was being eyed to relieve those maintenance issues, he added.

The district has “had requests over the years to do this,” said Kennedy, mentioning sports boosters and the marching band. The proposed overall capital project was the first time the district was able to tie in the football field work with other school facilities in order to receive state financial aid for the field portion, he observed. But the public’s vote “said they weren’t interested,” he remarked.

State financial aid for the entire project would have been in excess of 87.3 percent, according to Westmoreland district documents. The local share of the cost would have averaged about $79,000 per year. For a home assessed at $100,000, the maximum monthly payment would have been an additional $2.75, documents said.

When asked whether the district conceivably might revise the project proposal and again seek voter approval at some point, Kennedy would not speculate. It would be “up to the board...to decide what the next step” may be, he said. The board’s next meeting is Tuesday. The board may refer the matter to its finance and facilities committees, Kennedy added.

Among reasons that the project’s approval had been sought in Thursday’s vote, district documents said, were that the high school boiler system is in disrepair; bus garage renovations are mandated by the Department of Transportation; poor drainage is causing water seepage into nearby facilities; and the high school fire alarm and communication systems are outdated and difficult to repair.