Greybull schools getting turf football field

Nathan Oster

The Big Horn County School District No. 3 board of trustees has voted to proceed with the installation of an artificial turf playing surface on its football field, clearing the way for the project to proceed.

Joe Forcella, the district’s maintenance supervisor, said he expects construction to begin sometime in May and for new field to be ready in time for the fall football season.

The vote to make the switch from natural grass to turf was unanimous, although a couple of the “yes” votes were cast with reservations as board members voiced concerns about the $1.18 million price tag and whether the field would be usable in the extreme heat of the summer and early fall.

The project was discussed in depth at a December workshop.  

The school district intends to fund the turf field with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds that it received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.  That funding comes with a use-it-or-lose-it deadline — September 2023 for approximately $1.17 in ESSER II dollars and September 2024 for about $2.6 million in ESSER III money. 

Jed Easterbrook, regional vice president of FieldTurf/Tarkett Sports, told the board in December that the quality of turf fields has improved significantly since their introduction in the 1990s, that his company has put in approximately 1,000 turf field across the United States and that they’re gaining in popularity because they are safer and don’t require watering.

Wyoming currently has approximately 20 turf fields, with vertex being the most popular because it offers the durability of slit film and the look of monofilament.  One of the closest turf fields of this kind can be found in Cody.

Forcella has been lobbying in favor of the switch to turf, citing the need to address the current grass field’s lack of a crown — he used the word “concave” to describe it — and very outdated sprinkler system, for which it’s becoming increasing difficult to find parts.

In addition, he said the district spends $40,000 to $50,000 per year maintaining the field and he must limit its use for much of the year to ensure the highest quality playing surface for the football season, when it gets used for practices and/or games by intramural, middle school and high school players.

Supt. Mark Fritz outlined two options for the board’s consideration at the December meeting.  To recrown/rework the field, it would cost about $500,000 and the district would not be able to use ESSER money to pay for it and would still have to pay for ongoing maintenance.  

If it chooses turf, it would cost more up front, but it would be eligible for ESSER funding.  Easterbrook pegged annual turf maintenance costs between $5,000 and $10,000— it basically requires about a 45-minute “grooming” every other week.  On top of that, the field would have to be resurfaced every 10 to 12 years, at cost of between $500,000 and $600,000. 



While the vote was 7-0 in favor, some board members voiced reservations.

“This is a huge amount of money, especially (in the context) of looking at our annual budget,” said Pam Flitner.  “I think the feeling for most of us is, the reason we’re doing this is because if we don’t, (the state) won’t help us fix the field we have and they aren’t going to allow us to figure out a way to have a practice fields.

“I feel caught between a rock and a hard place — so hopefully we get some nice turf in there that works out really well.”

Flitner reiterated concerns she voiced in December about the impact the extreme heat of the summer and early fall will have on the field — and the practice schedules for all of the teams that intend to use it. 

“I’m not going to be happy if I hear that we can’t do anything on the field during the day because it’s too hot,” Flitner said, adding she’s afraid it will lead to other negative consequences, such as the end of the early kickoffs that are intended to ease the travel burden for teams traveling great distances to face the Buffs.

Flitner did cite one positive about the turf field, saying kids “at least the kids won’t be hitting their heads off the frozen ground anymore.”

Another trustee, Jeremy Kottmann, said he heard a lot of complaints about the field and its cost, but ultimately voted in favor of it.  “If we’re doing it, the kids better use it,” he said.

The district still intends to use ESSER funding to replace the field’s bleachers, but that project will be put on hold until the turf field is in place, according to Forcella. 

He said the field won’t require as much excavation as one might expect and that the topsoil that is removed will be reutilized at the school farm.  The biggest issue, he said, will be the installation of a drain tile around the exterior of the field, to deal with runoff from the track.

Forcella emphasized that it’s more than just a football field, that it’ll be marked for soccer and that the PE classes will get more use out of it.


Other news

In other Jan. 10 business:

• Supt. Mark Fritz’s contract was extended through the end of the 2024-25 school year after the board emerged from an executive session. Any potential compensation and benefit adjustments will be discussed later.

• Jeff Hunt was named the district’s teacher of the month.  Like the others honored before him, he’ll be up for teacher of the year honors in May.  He teaches at Greybull Elementary School.

• In personnel moves, the board accepted the resignation of Carol Kestner, a teacher at Greybull Middle School.  She’s spent 23 years with the districts and intends to retire at year’s end.

• The next board work session was set for Thursday, Feb. 9 at 6 p.m.  A meeting of the board’s policy committee will precede it at 5 p.m.

• An instructional day was added to the school calendar to make up for the day lost to extreme cold temperatures just before the Christmas break.  Rather than adding it at the end, the board chose to make April 7 — Good Friday — a school day, rather than an off day.  Families who would like to keep their children home that day for the religious observation will be permitted to do so.

• The early part of the meeting featured presentations by members of the GES Student Council and the Greybull FFA.