River Forest park board to vote on Keystone turf in April

Issue has been simmering for nearly two years

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

There was plenty of passion on both sides of the issue as River Forest residents filled in the larger of the two meeting rooms at the River Forest Park District's depot headquarters on March 11. About half of the attendees wanted the Board of Commissioners to put in artificial turf at Keystone Park, while the other half argued against it. 

The board has been grappling with the topic for almost two years. The proponents of the turf argued that it would make the field more usable and easier to maintain, while insisting that the drawbacks were exaggerated. The opponents argued that those drawbacks more than outweighed the benefits. 

After the latest discussion, the board agreed to hold a public hearing on April 4 at 6 p.m. at the park district's headquarters at 401 Thatcher Ave. While the commissioners could vote either at that public hearing or at their regular April 8 meeting, one thing is clear – one way or another, they are determined to put the matter behind them.

On Aug. 9, 2017, River Forest Youth Baseball Softball 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.

Given the fact that the field currently acts as a storm water detention area, some flooding is inevitable. But White and other supporters argued that, with artificial turf in place, rain wouldn't cause as much damage, and there would be ways to drain the water, so the field wouldn't be taken out of commission for as long as it does now.

Since White made his original proposal, opponents of the artificial turf urged the board to find alternatives, while White and other supporters urged the board to move forward on the project. 

In recent months, the park district researched other municipalities' experiences with the artificial turf and possible alternative turfs. The consultants the park district contracted determined that the artificial turf would be cheaper to install and cheaper to maintain. The consultants also noted that some alternatives tend to get harder than artificial turf under certain conditions.

But opponents of the artificial turf haven't given up. A few days before the March 11 meeting, they launched an online petition to urge the park board against installing the artificial turf. As of about noon on March 18, it had 289 signatures.

During the March 11 meeting, Chris Plywacz said that he had a personal reason for opposing an artificial turf field – he got injured while playing on one back in 2008. He cited a study that was commissioned by NFL and published in the Oct. 12 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine as proof that injuries like his were more likely to happen on an artificial turf.

As during previous meetings where the issue was discussed, some opponents of the artificial turf cited other studies that suggested that such fields were more likely to trap heat and could potentially contain cancer-causing materials.

Laura Maychruk emphasized that she didn't hate baseball – she simply felt that board hasn't given a serious look at other options.

"I think there are solutions [involving] natural grass that could be less expensive," she said. "And I think we as River Forest should aspire to strive and be the leaders in this area. Just because Oak Park [put in artificial turf] doesn't mean it's right. Otherwise, we'd all be talking about high-rises in River Forest."

White and other supporters of the artificial turf were just as determined in their appeals, arguing that the studies opponents cited either weren't as definitive as they claimed and/or weren't applicable, because Keystone field is smaller than the football and soccer fields they studies looked at, or because the climate in the study areas was warmer than in Chicago. 

Mike Grant, a coach whose three children participated in RFYBS, said he takes children's health seriously – and for those reasons and others, he didn't believe artificial turf would be more dangerous than natural grass field.

"I want what's best for the kids," he said.

After some back and forth, park board President Ross Roloff decided to hold a public hearing before a vote. While he and Commissioner Peter Kuzmich didn't express a preference on the issue, Commissioner Lynn Libera said she was inclined to support the artificial turf.

"This turf is looking like the best solution to accomplish getting kids out of the mud and reducing amount of maintenance associated with [the infields]," she said, adding that, while she wished there was a better solution that didn't involve a turf, none presented itself.

Roloff sais he was ready to resolve the issue once and for all.

"I feel, personally, and I feel I'm speaking on behalf of the board, that we've done our due diligence to make an informed decision," he said.

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Mattie Langenberg from Oak Park  

Posted: March 19th, 2019 4:36 PM

The drainage system that the PDOP installed at Taylor Field in Oak Park has done wonders for the playability of that field. Our ability to use that field after rainy weather has significantly increased. Keystone would likely need a cistern to hold water (which could be re-used for irrigation) but might be a happy medium.

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