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San Carlos field renovation raises residents’ concerns

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As city officials move forward with plans to renovate an athletic field at Heather School, district leaders and neighbors are looking for a way to prevent ballfield lights from being added to the site.

San Carlos is seeking bids to renovate the field with either natural grass or synthetic turf — the first such project following a lengthy, divisive multi-year fight over the use of synthetic turf versus natural grass on the city’s playing fields.

Existing grass fields, including those at Heather School and Highlands Park, are deteriorating rapidly with overuse. However, residents whose homes ring Heather School fear that adding synthetic turf will increase noise and traffic as teams flock to the field, and that the city will be tempted to add lights so athletes can practice and compete into the night.

“The city keeps saying, ‘We’re not pursuing [lights] at this time,’ which is hardly satisfactory,” according to resident Katherine Tynan, who represented Heather School neighbors on the city’s athletic-fields task force in 2005 and 2006.

In response, the San Carlos School Board agreed this month to explore the possibility of establishing a permanent ban on any future ball-field lights, according to board member Eric Von der Porten. Although Heather’s field belongs to the school, San Carlos has a long-term agreement with the district that allows public use.

“All five board members said they would not want to see lights on that location,” Von der Porten said. “That has been the biggest concern of the neighbors.”

Because synthetic turf is more durable than grass, and can be used even during and after a rain, local athletic boosters believe that renovating existing fields with the material will allow them to use existing fields more without adding new fields — something the city cannot currently afford. But many question whether bringing synthetic turf to Heather School’s field, which is only available to the community a few hours each day, is the most cost-effective solution.

Vice Mayor Brad Lewis, who co-chaired the athletic-fields committee as it developed a series of recommendations for San Carlos’ sports fields, is optimistic about the bid process for Heather.

“I’m happy that it feels as though the idea has gained momentum, that there’s some progress being made,” Lewis said. “I think it’s ultimately going to benefit the youth of the community.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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