MG BHS CHS Field envy 070219

Christiansburg High School has a new synthetic turf football field. Now Blacksburg would like to upgrade its field also.

Boosters are raising money for the replacement of Blacksburg High School’s current football field grass with synthetic turf.

Members of the Blacksburg Athletic Club, which provides financial support to Blacksburg’s school sports, said this week that more than $400,000 has been pledged toward the new field project.

They said they’re not pushing to start the project this summer because it would likely interfere with the beginning of football season. They said they instead hope to begin the project in November and complete it before Christmas.

The push for Blacksburg High to get a new football turf comes about a year after the addition of synthetic turf to Christiansburg High School’s own football field. Christiansburg High’s new football turf was part of a $1.9 million project that also involved the addition of a rubberized track.

Blacksburg’s boosters said their plans are not in response to the improvements in Christiansburg and instead aim to address drainage and weather- related issues that have long plagued Blacksburg High’s field.

Dave Shelor, a past Blacksburg Athletic Club president who has been involved in the turf fundraising effort, said an event of heavy rain last fall decimated the Blacksburg field and prompted the school to move some home games to Christiansburg.

The Virginia High School League wouldn’t certify the field at the time, Shelor said.

“The field never recovered,” Shelor said. “For the first five weeks of soccer, the schedule had to be adjusted because the field going into April was still deemed unplayable.”

Blacksburg’s field has been prone to issues such as parts of the field being more prone to flooding than others, Shelor said. Additionally, the existing field has been the victim of grub, a kind of pest known to ruin grass turfs by eating the roots, he said.

Some Montgomery County Public Schools officials echoed the concerns over drainage and weather.

“The field has had a serious drainage issue since it was first opened,” Superintendent Mark Miear wrote in an email. “This year [2018-2019] it became so bad that the field was declared unplayable several times due to the excessive rain. As a result, we had to move games to Christiansburg’s turf field for post-season football.”

Several soccer games were moved to Virginia Tech during the spring and MCPS was required to find alternatives for lacrosse, as well, Miear said.

“The turf fields in Christiansburg have proven so effective, so I am thrilled that our boosters are raising the money for turf fields in Blacksburg,” school board member Mark Cherbaka, whose district covers northeast Blacksburg, wrote in an email. “If they didn’t do this, we would have to wait a lot longer to upgrade those fields, and we’d spend more money in maintenance since those fields get so much use.”

In the meantime, MCPS is using $350,000 from the past fiscal year’s year-end funds to perform some drainage work, school district spokeswoman Brenda Drake said.

“Correcting the drainage issues at the BHS football stadium was part of our maintenance plans this year,” Drake wrote in an email. “This work needs to be completed to maintain the current field, but also provides a convenient time for a turf field to be installed.”

The most recent estimate for the synthetic turf falls at around $400,000, Drake said.

Blacksburg’s boosters said they hope to raise all of the funds needed for the new turf, a direction shared by at least some Montgomery County officials.

“If we can work with the boosters on the timing so that some of the maintenance money can go to prepping the field for turf, and getting us [the] turf quicker, it’s win-win for everyone in the long term,” Cherbaka wrote.

Montgomery County Supervisor Steve Fijalkowski, who generally supports the new turf project, said the boosters raising all the funds would prevent the county from potentially having to provide more funds.

“I don’t think it’s the right way to do things,” Fijalkowski said.

The funding of school facility needs recently caused some debate when the county was asked to transfer some additional school capital earmark money to school operations, he said.

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Yann Ranaivo covers local government and politics in the New River Valley, including Christiansburg, Blacksburg, Radford and Montgomery County.

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