By Rachana Rathi, Globe Staff
Newton South High School athletes and parents erupted in cheers Monday night after the Board of Aldermen approved a $4.8 million proposal to install four new athletic fields -- two made of natural grass and two of synthetic turf.
The aldermen's chamber at City Hall overflowed with parents and athletes who have long been frustrated with drainage problems at the existing fields that have forced teams to practice indoors and late into the night, and play games away from the school.
Aldermen approved using $1.6 million from the city's capital stabilization fund and borrowing the remaining $3.2 million for the fields by a vote of 20-4, with Aldermen Ted Hess-Mahan, Anthony Salvucci, Amy Sangiolo, and Greer Tan Swiston opposing. The board approved setting aside $500,000 from the capital stabilizaton fund for maintaining the fields by a 23-1 vote, with Sangiolo in opposition.
The proposal to install synthetic turf fields at the high school was first brought before aldermen about three years ago, and went through numerous changes because aldermen and residents raised concerns about potential environmental and health and safety impacts of the synthetic turf. The issues surround possible lead content in the fields, as well as the environmental impact and cost of disposal at the end of their 10- to 15-year lifespan.
"We're very excited," said Newton South lacrosse coach David McCullum, who coached on synthetic fields at Acton-Boxborough. "It's a great advantage to have for your program. They're just fantastically useful."
Several aldermen said their concerns about lead abated after a study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission was released in July. In a memo to the board, Mayor David Cohen said the study's evaluation "concludes that there is no risk from exposure to lead in new synthetic turf fields."
But others were not persuaded.
Hess-Mahan said he would have supported the proposal if the product being used as fill in the fields was not made of crumb rubber.
"I support having these fields," Hess-Mahan said. "I don't support installing a product that involves known carcinogenics."
Hess-Mahan said there are natural alternatives that would be more expensive, but could be used if the city installed one fewer synthetic turf field. Several aldermen said they would also have preferred having a single synthetic turf field, but supported the proposal because they felt the issue had dragged on long enough and the high school is in dire need of new fields.
"While I would have preferred a one-field solution using the best material possible," said Alderman Stephen Linsky, "it is time to move on."
Proponents, such as alderwoman Sydra Shnipper, called the approval "long overdue," and said the board has done its "due diligence and come up with the best combination of plans. The standard right now is to consider turf."
Some members of the Newton South track team said they didn't care whether the fields and track were artificial or natural, just that they were usable.
"It's just appalling they that they let it go this long," said John Beck, a 17-year-old senior who runs on the track team. "As long as it gets fixed and the fields are usable, any solution is okay."