Nov 24, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Winter has set in again at Fayetteville-Manilus High School. As snow and cold temperatures arrive, the stadium and track, sitting at the front of the school campus, begins a quiet period that, normally, stretches from October to April.
Yet if the efforts of school officials and active community members prove successful, the stadium will remain dormant until Sept. 1, 2011 – the day that a brand-new artificial turf field makes its community debut.
In a project unique to Central New York, F-M has committed itself to the installment of a new all-weather field at the 47-year-old stadium entirely funded through private donations.
To get the complete project done in time for the 2011 fall season, $1.8 million needs to be raised before March 1. To date, the Fayetteville-Manlius Community Sports Facility Association (FMCSFA) has raised more than half the funds, around $1 million.
The desire to bring an artificial turf facility to F-M dates back to the early part of the millennium, when similar facilities were going up around the area, including neighboring school districts like East Syracuse-Minoa and Chittenango.
F-M first proposed a new stadium to be built in the back of the school property (near larger parking lots) in 2004, as part of a $6.5 million capital project. Voters rejected it by a 2-1 margin, just as they did in March 2008 with a $4.7 million proposal.
Brian Sischo, a member of the FMCSFA board, said that voters understood the need to upgrade the facilities, but still used the vote as a protest against what they considered to be high taxes.
After this, both the school district and various community members concluded that they could not get public support again. So for the better part of two years, through a series of meetings, they ironed out a plan to do it themselves – and utilize the current stadium to further save money.
As a result of all this deliberation, the FMCSFA was formed early this year, a group composed of more than 25 members, all of them volunteers. Their efforts led to a Sept. 20 school board meeting where, by a 7-1 margin, the board accepted the group’s written proposal.
Trish Stegemann, also a member of the FMCSFA board, said that some residents came to that school board meeting convinced that the project involved some sort of school taxes.
“We told them that this is a gift (to the district), not another referendum,” said Stegemann. “Once they heard that, they supported it. This is a gift we need. There’s no rational reason not to accept it.”
Athletic director Rich Roy said that the new field, once in place, would host 450 to 500 school and community events per year, not even counting physical education classes that could utilize the turf from Monday through Friday, when school was in session. Groups such as F-M’s youth lacrosse and Pop Warner Football programs would use the field on the weekends.
That, said Roy, is a stark contrast to the current situation, characterized by what took place in 2009. Again in the spring of that year, the boys and girls lacrosse teams were forced to practice in parking lots and gymnasiums well into the season and play “home” games as far away as Central Square.
Then in October of ’09, after the Homecoming football game against Henninger in which heavy rains turned the current F-M grass field into mud, no one played on it again until May of this year – a span of seven months. As a result, teams in the fall and spring had to, as in years past, board buses for evening practices on rented-out turf fields elsewhere.
According to the monthly newsletter F-M sent out in November, the district spent an average of $15,000 a year for such bus transportation and venue rental. The newsletter also said the new field would save the district from having to spend $328,000 to repair the current grass field within the stadium.
Community fund-raising efforts picked up in the fall. For a locally televised football game against Utica Proctor on Oct. 1, more than 1,000 “Turf It Up” T-shirts were sold, at $10 apiece. Also, the school staged a “Turkey Trot” on Thanksgiving Day at F-M’s cross country course, where more than 300 runners took part.
Meanwhile, the FMCSFA sent out letters to all 9,800 households in the school district, and has also built up a database of 2,800 alumni to ask for donations. FMCSFA board co-chairman Kevin Hanlon said donations are arriving from places as far away as Texas and California.
One of those alums working to drum up support is Jeff Izant, a 2004 graduate who played lacrosse at F-M and Princeton and is now a student at Columbia University’s law school. He said that the initial contacts he has made with fellow F-M grads have gone well.
“Everyone I have talked to has been interested in contributing, from a financial or a time perspective,” said Izant.
Also, FMCSFA has put up a web site, fmfield.com, which features a seven-minute video of F-M athletes explaining why the turf field would be so important to the school and community.
Roy said that, for current and former athletes, the project is a “legacy contribution”, a chance for them to give back to their alma mater. The next few months will determine the extent to which their efforts will pay off – and whether F-M will have a new field to call home next fall.