River Forest Park District delays turf discussion

Sustainability Commission continues push for alternative

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

The River Forest Park District Board meeting decided to postpone to discussion of River Forest Youth Baseball and Softball (RFYBS) proposal to put in artificial turf at Keystone Park Girls' Softball field until November after protests from River Forest Sustainability Commission Chair Kathleen Brennan and fellow commission members, who came to the park district's Oct. 15 meeting.

Adding artificial turf at Keystone and Centennial parks has been proposed as a way to address a recurring issue of rain rendering the fields unusable, forcing games to be cancelled.

The Sustainability Commission has protested the idea, arguing that artificial turf does more harm than good, and that there were other, more environmentally friendly ways to address the problem.

The commission members said that, during their Aug. 13 board meeting, the park board members and staff gave the impression that they wouldn't discuss putting artificial turf at Keystone Park until next spring.

Park district Executive Director Mike Sletten and some members of the park board argued that they weren't making any decision now, but it didn't preclude them from considering all of the options without making a firm commitment one way or another.

In the end, the board agreed to not only postpone the discussion, but to have the staff look at ways to reduce flooding without putting in an artificial turf.

On Aug. 9, 2017, RFYBS President Greg White sent the park district a proposal for putting in artificial turf on Keystone Park's east softball diamond infield. He argued it would create a better playing surface and solve the drainage problems. RFYBS offered $50,000, a sum it secured through a donation, to help cover the costs.

What's being proposed, according to a memo for the park board's meeting on Oct. 15, is adding artificial turf at both of Keystone Park's fields and extending them by 10 feet. Storm water would be collected beneath the turf, ensuring that it won't interfere with the games.

Sletten told the board that the park district wanted to get as much use out of both fields as possible, and that they wanted to use both fields for both girls' and boys' sports. But, he emphasized that the proposal was just a starting point.

"We wanted to put something out there to at least start a discussion," Sletten said. "[Whether you] like it or not, we can discuss that and maybe move from there."

Park Commissioner Cheryl Cargie wondered if the discussion was premature.

"I don't understand discussing baseball turf if we haven't discussed the turf in general," she said. "The park [board] as whole haven't decided if we wanted to put in synthetic turfs."

Peter Kuzmich, who served as president pro-tem during the Oct. 15 meeting, at which a bare quorum of three commissioners were present, said that he and Sletten felt that, discussion was appropriate, given how much time has passed since the proposal was submitted.

"The intent tonight was to discuss it as board and see what our thoughts are," Kuzmich said.

Brennan felt that her organization – and River Forest residents in general – were left out of the loop. As she saw it, the board made it clear in August meeting that they won't look at the issue until next March, and that she was caught off guard by the board's decision to discuss the proposal.

Kuzmich said that, just because they agreed not to make any decision doesn't mean they stopped looking into ways to resolve the issue entirely.

Commissioner Lynn Libera said she understood where both Brennan and Kuzmich were coming from, and that she was in favor of discussing the proposal.

"That gives us something to discuss rather than theoretical turf or no turf kind of thing," she said. "I'd like to bury the hatchet here and decide what the merits are, what the process would be, and see what we want to do."

But after some further back and forth, the commissioners agreed to postpone the discussion until their Nov. 12 meeting.

And after Brennan asked whether the park district could research ways to resolve the flooding issues without putting in an artificial turf, Sletten said that he and the park district's engineer could look into it.

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