Ramapo Central school officials will craft a new plan to replace artificial turf fields at the middle school after residents rejected an $850,000 replacement plan in a close vote Tuesday night.
District residents defeated a proposition to replace the fields with a yet-to-be-determined material in a 1,376-1,103 vote, following debate among parents — and pressure from two board members who are doctors — to more closely examine the safety and health hazards linked to artificial turf.
"I think the fact that it was voted down was a clear indication that the community members are now aware of the risks that installing more of the same type of turf might involve," board trustee Dr. Amany Messieha-Dgheim said.
Voters must approve spending of capital reserves on any future project. Officials have provided no specific timeline for the project, but there appears to be unanimous agreement within the district that the fields are worn down and need to be replaced quickly.
Board President Theresa DiFalco, who was re-elected to another term Tuesday, said the board expects to review an administrative plan for researching field materials and selecting vendors.
"With the proposition being voted down, we have to look at what options we do have available to us now," DiFalco said. "We're going to research all the options and ultimately we'll do what's in the best interest of the students of Ramapo Central."
The board wants to hear input from parents, the local sports community and experts on artificial athletic fields, DiFalco said. A public hearing is expected to be part of the decision process.
"There's a lot of different turf options ... there's not just crumb rubber," she added, referring to the material made of recycled rubber tires that is widely used as fill in artificial turf fields around the country and also what Ramapo Central's current fields contain. Some health experts say carcinogens in crumb rubber — even in small amounts — pose health hazards for young athletes.
Board members also expressed interest in having the district test the air quality and other conditions of the fields when the spring sports seasons end.
Montebello resident Rob Charmak, whose two sons have played lacrosse on the turf fields, said he voted to support the $131 million school budget Tuesday, but against the field proposition because the process felt rushed and misinformed.
"I want the kids to have the best of everything," he said. "If (the artificial fields) are unsafe, I'd be concerned, but I just don't know right now if they are unsafe."
Other parents say they're in favor of going back to natural grass, but whether the district will consider that option is unclear. Superintendent Doug Adams did not return messages seeking comment.
The district spent about $5.2 million to install the artificial fields in 2006, as part of a major overhaul of the athletic facilities. At the time, officials lauded the artificial turf as a more durable alternative to natural grass that's easier and less expensive to maintain.
In Westchester, Bronxville voters on Tuesday approved a $1.8 million proposal to install artificial turf with organic infill — not crumb rubber —for the first time in the district after defeating a similar, more expensive proposal in January.