Proponents of a potential new track and artificial turf at Freeport High School met the Regional School Unit Five board Wednesday night to update them on progress, and speak to any potential health concerns associated with the proposed field.

Fred Palmer and John Patterson said they were successful in securing some major donors early on towards an end goal of $2.8 to $3.2 million. The group of 15 to 20 volunteers formed in July and have only had their nonprofit status since November.

To date, Palmer said he believes they have raised between $1.8 and $2 million in verbal commitments and pledges. Part of the funds considered for the project would depend on $600,000 dedicated toward reconstruction of grass fields to the new track and turf field — something that would have to go to referendum.

Work would be slated to begin this summer to have the field usable by fall of 2017 — the same estimated completion date of building construction at the high school.

When questioned about artificial turf over grass, Patterson said the only feasible configuration for field use with the inclusion of a track would be artificial considering the amount of use that field would get. He said the turf ’s lifetime is about 10 years and with estimated replacement costs between $500,000 and $800,000, the amount would equal upkeep and maintenance of grass fields.

Board Chairwoman Michelle Ritcheson expressed some concern regarding the rubber tire fill used in the artificial turf. She said there is worry about how safe the fill is for athletes using the field.

“There’s no evidence that states that grind causes cancer. We are reserving judgement on that until later on the project,” Palmer said.

He added that there are other options for fill in the turf such as ground sneaker soles and coconut husks, all at differing price points. However, he said all the schools he knows of including Bowdoin College, all use ground tire fill.

Board member Valeria Steverlync applauded the group’s efforts but cautioned the RSU should conduct a survey ahead of any potential referendum to get a feel for where the voters are on the kind of turf fill they want.

“We all know that we do need huge improvements in the fields but I do hear frequently from many people that actually are very involved in athletics — and quite frankly I’m surprised … to hear people say there’s no way I’m going to let my kid play on the tire (fill),” Steverlync said.

Patterson reiterated that there are no studies that show a correlation between tire fill and health and said there were some state level studies that show the contrary, but stressed that the problem is easy to overcome by changing the fill type.

Patterson said his committee who have been studying the safety of different fills would be glad to meet with anyone from the community who expressed concerns over the matter.

“What it is and what people’s perceptions of what it is are two different things and you can only change one of them,” Palmer added.

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