Momentum building for field turf in Lafourche

T’is the season: Plenty give back this Christmas season
December 7, 2016
Voters to pick Lockport mayor this weekend
December 7, 2016

Momentum is building in Lafourche Parish’s longstanding quest to lay field turf in all of its football stadiums.

The Lafourche Parish School Board will consider putting on its agenda a measure which would use an existing millage toward the turf fields, which coaches say are desperately needed, because of the amount of use our stadiums generate throughout the school year.

If placed on the agenda, then approved, the Lafourche Parish School Board would ask voters to renew the millage, which has been in place since 1979 – originally enacted to provide air conditioning for area schools and also to pay for Larose Elementary’s construction.

If approved, the funds would then be directed, in part, to placing turf at Thibodaux, Central Lafourche and South Lafourche high school’s stadiums.

“We need it,” Central Lafourche coach Keith Menard said during the football season, when asked about the possibility of field turf in our area. “Our fields are overused. It’s a safety hazard. We host too many contests. The grass never has a time to rest, relax or breathe. I don’t know what it’s going to take, but we have to do something to get it done.”

Renewal of this millage would do exactly that.

The school board emphasizes that this is a millage renewal, which means that it isn’t a new tax, and it would cost nothing to locals that they aren’t already paying now.

The millage was the first and only property tax Lafourche Parish has for education, dating back to its original passage in 1979.

Each time the bonds have been paid off, Lafourche has gone back to voters and has asked for renewal – an effort that has been passed each time.

Lafourche schools also tout that the bonds have been paid off before expected time each time, and that the funds have been in the past to expand existing schools, build new schools and do work necessary to keep the parish’s facilities on par with the rest of the state.

A big part of that project, if passed again, would be the turf, which locals believe would be a game-changer for the area.

Area high school football fields are often at the mercy of the conditions throughout the summer and fall months, as heavy rains scar the field.

Overloaded fall schedules, which involve use by prep football teams, middle school football teams and also band competition, P.E. classes, and other school-related functions never allow the grass to heal properly, once damaged in the rain.

“I think it becomes a safety issue,” Ellender coach David McCormick said during the season. “I think it’s unfair for us to ask our kids to go out and perform on a surface that’s so wet and slippery that it’s no longer safe for them to do the things we’re trying to do.”

McCormick coaches at Ellender, which uses South Terrebonne’s field throughout the season.

That stadium was hit particularly hard this season, which led to games being moved to other venues, including a varsity football game against Patterson.

“We lost a lot of gate money with that,” McCormick said. “There’s a lot that goes into this that people don’t think about on the surface.”

But it’s a safety issue, as well.

Studies conducted by unbiased firms indicate that lower-body injuries go down once turf is in place, because the turf is designed for an athlete’s feet to slide through contact, instead of remaining stuck on soft, wet grass footing.

The fields also come with built-in drainage, which means that ponding and other rain-related hazards are not worries, unless a game is played in a heavy rainstorm.

The cost of turf varies, but it is often a six-figure price tag. But once it’s in place, schools save in maintenance, because the surfaces never have to be painted, mowed or sodded.

The surfaces last for 20-30 years.

“Grass just can’t handle what we’re being asked our fields to do,” Menard said. “Studies say that natural grass can handle a dozen contests a year, maybe even 15 or 20 if you’re stretching it. But when you add up high school, middle school, band, soccer and everything else, we’re stretching into the 40s and 50s. It’s a recipe that’s not ever going to work.”

It’s not yet known whether the board will move to place the millage renewal onto its agenda, but area high schools are in favor.

Coaches, athletic directors and principals have penned letters – both through e-mail and social media, urging voters to call school board members to express their support.

If renewed, the millage would also be used to build a new middle school in Thibodaux, combining East and West Thibodaux Middle Schools, as well as other structural improvements and upgrades throughout the parish. •

No. 7 Lafourche moves on field turf

It was a wet summer in Louisiana, which devastated area playing fields – a now seemingly routine occurrence in the Houma-Thibodaux area.

South Terrebonne High School’s field got it the worst. They played a game against Bonnabel during a driving rain storm, which damaged the field so badly that Ellender had to move its home game the next week to Patterson High School.

Another game between Central Lafourche and Thibodaux High was played in difficult conditions, which coaches speculate led to several sprained ankles and leg injuries during the game.

But help is seemingly on the way – at least in Lafourche.

The Lafourche Parish School Board is asking voters to renew a facilities millage, which they’d then use to put turf on the parish’s three fields.

That vote will come in 2017, but is widely expected to pass, because it is not a new tax for citizens.

Follow Casey on Twitter for more.