The agenda packet of the February 20, 2023 Ludington School Board meeting was modest, but a couple of those items were game changing.  It should also be noted that exactly one year ago, students in the Ludington Area School District (LASD) still had to wear masks in class because of this school board's mandate, the only school in the county at the time to have such a policy.  

The board this evening would be making another costly decision affecting the health and safety of students, this time over the next decade or so:  replacing the natural grass football field with artificial turf.  Once again, they didn't take action based on economics or science, but they seem to have acted in order to keep up with the Joneses.  This wasn't necessarily a recent decision; they had decided to budget for it inside the $101 million school bond passed in 2019.  The cost was over 50% of that budgeted amount, over 50% of the same amount thrown out last year.  

The board, with Leona Ashley absent, agreed 6-0 to a $1,352,000 contract with the Astroturf Company to install a hybrid turf football field.  This will need to be fully replaced in about ten years.  Neither the board or the public was given any information about the turf to be used, it was selected solely by a Grand Rapids contractor using some unknown request for proposals.  I found it to be rather objectionable:

XLFD:  "It's a shame that the school board is so insecure about their decision making that they always hide  controversial issues until they come up at a meeting.  Recent instances, November 2021, the selling of Foster School worth almost a quarter of a million sold for $20,000.  You all justified that by claiming it would have cost you more than twice what it was worth to demolish it.  Dudes, you sold an intact, functional building and a block and a half of property for less than a tenth of its value.  Then there was the deer cull thing.

This meeting it's the $1.4 million purchase of astroturf for the football field without any sort of discussion with the public about replacing the grass with astroturf which will need to be replaced in full every decade.  This is 50% more than the district was saying it would cost last February.  Have you guys did any research on the topic so you can defend this recurring purchase, or are you just going to do it and let the community suffer for it?   This makes no sense-- sure you'll save some money on maintenance, but not over $100,000 per year.  Our superintendent saves money on maintaining his hair by shaving his head, I don't see the rest of the board following suit. 

All artificial turf is made with toxic PFAS and some are still produced with ground-up tires that can contain heavy metals, benzene, and other carcinogens that can present a health threat. The material also emits high levels of methane and sheds microplastics and other chemicals into waterways.  PFAS can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled, ingested or get in open wounds as they break off from the plastic blades, and youths are considered more vulnerable to exposure because they are smaller and their bodies are still developing.

The NFL Player's Association is pressuring the league to ban artificial turf because of injuries, while the US national soccer teams will only play on natural grass for the same reason.  Are you seriously choosing easy maintenance at high costs over our children's health and safety?" [END comment]

The board would ignore the inflated cost and the long-term hazards in their approval, focusing rather on how this would be welcomed handily by the community and the myth that artificial turf is just as safe to play on.  They also indicated it would be a field they could be proud of, you know, like that new fake field in Fruitport.  

The main topic to be considered this meeting according to the local paper was approving the School Resource Officer (SRO) agreement between Ludington Elementary and the Mason County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) for 3 years.  Deputy Dave Barnett was already effectively serving this stint before this agreement, but now his salary ($77K/yr.) will be paid in full for over two years by a grant and the school will need $25K for the last year.  It's a good deal for the school even when you're not sure that having SROs in lower elementary schools is an overall positive thing, as I believe.  

As if to emphasize the agreement which was eventually passed unanimously, the Soaring Oriole Award for the month was given jointly to Barnett and SRO Austin Morris from the 7th-12th grade buildings in the LASD.  Over $1.3 million of the 2019 bond was used for recent construction in those buildings.

In presentations, Elementary Principal Katie Eisener gave an update on an academic intervention named WIN, and French teacher Susan Shoup fully described her classes recent trip to France where they visited the Louvre, the catacombs, Sainte Chapelle, the opera, Versailles, Normandy, riding the Metro and seeing some protest in the recent trip.  In other comments, Jason Wolven thanked the board for setting up the meeting, held in Scott Foster's wife's classroom in the high school, so that the whole board faced the audience.  State Representative Curt VanderWall patted himself on the back while relaying recent school mental health support legislation in the most positive light.  

As someone whose business (Mole Man) helps maintain local natural grass athletic fields, one might think VanderWall would have something to say against the turf, but he apparently knows enough to stay in his lane.  The last item of business was to approve an 'abatement' contract with Dore & Associates at $247,000.  Looking through the agenda packet one can't figure out what's being abated or why it costs so much.

Only when one looks at the Dore's website does one get a clue to what was being abated:  asbestos.  The district's and the contractor's inability to indicate the hazard(s) to be abated and their inability to admit that the artificial turf they agreed to has its own hazardous materials to be concerned about makes me want to find out how extensive the asbestos issue was in the high school complex to warrant a quarter of a million dollars to abate the problem.  

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I may be commenting on a few different posts in this response so please forgive me in advance. 

Spending money on the football field that is used seasonally is a big waste of taxpayer money.  I agree that it will create future expenses on top of doing something that is not in line with the community's values.  In my limited time in this area, I have learned the people generally prefer natural products.  Artificial anything is usually frowned upon. 

I was just made aware of the hazardous conditions in the Hawley Gym that has been brought up to all the powerful people within the district.  The gym does not meet competition standards and is not properly spaced from walls and seating.  A concerned mother whose child was injured is trying to bring attention to the need for safer conditions in a space used a lot more than the football field. 

There are numerous reasons the district/community needs another space for indoor sports, but it seems the people in charge are spending it on the things they prefer.  I think one of the board members has a child getting invite only football camp offers, so we know his personal preference is likely to spend on football investments.  I think a community center would be a great investment for this community but, putting it in the school districts hands is not the best solution.  

I do not support police officers in elementary schools.  The "crime" in this town taking place at schools is not worthy of multiple officers.  Officer Mooris could start by enforcing the traffic laws around the high school if safety was really a concern.  Even if he doesn't issue tickets, he should stop and educate.  You have school buses parked directly on both sides of a marked cross walk on Washington.  The kids just pop out because the view is blocked.  At the corner of Washington/Anderson you have cars blocking the intersection and cars blocking the view to turn from the designated pickup area.  This creates a danger for the kids trying to cross the road there.  Only a few people actually use the pickup area they were asked to use.  Go figure.  

The recap touched upon the artificial turf and hiring an elementary SRO both parts of the meeting, so you have no need to apologize for having your comments misplaced, they are actually well placed and well stated.  

You actually reminded me of the gymnasium deficit that has been brought up at a couple of other meetings by coaches, who have lost practice space at four LASD-owned facilities and gained only one in return, and keyed me in on news about Hawley Gymnasium which will be offline at some time in the future for renovations, even if it didn't need the remodeling you say is necessary.  

The $1.4 million saved from buying turf could make one very fancy gym facility or a couple of average ones that would be available for use year-round and would last well past the faux turf that would need to be landfilled after a decade of use.

It's unfortunate that our schools and police agencies always do an end-around on the public when deciding the issue of SROs.  I don't like the idea of any kid having minor disciplinary problems have that behavior criminalized and potentially traumatized by excessive force rather than dealt with by schoolteachers and counselors trained in child behaviors.  Deputy Barnett seems like a nice enough guy, but Officer Morris has already showed to me that he would commit perjury on a search warrant affidavit, so what's preventing him from lying about your child's behavior and putting them through the school to prison pipeline that the presence of SROs foster.  


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