Citizens' group raises more than $600,000 for a new artificial-turf field at Haddonfield Memorial High

Principal Chuck Klaus (left) and athletic director Lefteris Banos walk Haddonfield Memorial's natural-grass field.
Principal Chuck Klaus (left) and athletic director Lefteris Banos walk Haddonfield Memorial's natural-grass field. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 17, 2012

A brief description of Haddonfield Memorial High School's athletic program:

It has high participation - more than 80 percent of students engage in a sport. And it's high-achieving, honored as best overall in its conference for 30-plus years and perennially recognized as tops statewide among schools its size.

One other thing. By many accounts, its playing and practice fields are among the worst in the area.

Stadium Field, where football, girls' soccer, and lacrosse are played, and the adjacent borough-owned Anniversary Field, reserved for practices, are so overused, especially in the fall, that maintaining healthy grass is impossible, according to school superintendent Richard Perry. The fields become mud pits in rain and "like concrete" when it's cold, he said.

With the second-highest average tax bills in Camden County, even prosperous Haddonfield's residents had balked at putting up the substantial sum needed to install artificial turf.

This spring, however, a citizen committee appealed to passionate school sports supporters, including many former players, and a large pool of civic-minded, deep-pocketed residents.

Since June, the Haddonfield Turf Committee has raised more than $600,000, with $200,000 from one donor and many contributions of $10,000 or more, said chairman Joseph Del Duca, a longtime Haddonfield High sports supporter and former school athlete.

Combined with $156,000 from the school district and $354,000 from the borough, that would cover the estimated cost - a little more than $1 million - of artificial turf at both fields, he said.

Del Duca said artificial turf would be a much better playing surface and could be used much more intensively, including by community sports groups on weekends.

"Because of the increased player time at the fields, this is a great deal for the school district and the town," he said.

The fund-raising group is holding a victory celebration Saturday evening at Mercedes-Benz of Cherry Hill.

Artificial turf would be a big improvement, said school athletic director Lefteris Banos.

"Grass fields are meant to be used 30 times a season. We are double and triple that on some facilities," he said. "It leads to no grass and divots, a field not well-suited for the high-level competition our students deserve."

Brian Kelly, a founder of the recently formed Haddonfield United, started mainly to oppose the borough and district's purchase of a neighboring property, said the turf replacement is part of a pattern of spending that increases taxes.

"These fields have to be replaced every eight years," he said. "Taxpayers will be on the hook for that. The cost is never-ending."

Schools with artificial turf can have unanticipated repair and maintenance problems, Kelly said. Environmental concerns, he said, range from chemicals used to clean the turf to higher temperatures on the synthetic surfaces.

His solution to the condition of the grass fields: "They just need to take better care of them."

Del Duca said it would cost a substantial amount to replace the artificial surface years down the road - possibly more than half the original cost, according to estimates - but "we're assured of first-class playing fields, with 250 percent more playing time."

There are thousands of artificial-turf fields in the United States, including many in South Jersey, and "not a state in the country" where they're prohibited due to environmental concerns, he said.

"I look to the experts," Del Duca said. "I have to assume that they're safe."


Contact Dan Hardy at 856-779-3858 or dhardy@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @DanInq.

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