Soccer and football games at Palo Alto's high schools will likely take place on synthetic turf next fall, following a school board vote on Tuesday to accept an anonymous donation.
The donation will fund the entire cost of installing synthetic-turf fields at both Gunn and Palo Alto High Schools, expected to be about $2.6 million, said Chief Business Official Bob Golton.
Last night the board voted unanimously to accept only the $67,615 needed to fund architectural design studies for the future fields, plus an extra ten percent in case of unforeseen cost increases, for a total of $74,377.
The board will accept more money for construction and installation later in the year when estimates become available, Golton said.
The total cost should not exceed $3 million and will likely be around $2.6 million, he said.
Replacing the turf in 10 years will cost between $300,000 and $350,000, he said.
The board bypassed its usual two-meeting discussion rule to accept the money in time to have fields installed for the next football season, but added provisions about gathering community input to be sure hasty acceptance would not override residents' concerns.
District staff must meet with the community to discuss environmentally sound construction practices, board members stipulated.
And the district must include neighborhood residents in future decisions about how to use the fields, they said.
The designs should be finished by January or February and construction of fields could begin in May, pending state approval, Golton said.
Installation should be complete by Aug. 15, in time for next fall's football season, he said.
The new fields will have many benefits, including saving water, fertilizer and labor needed to maintain natural lawns, he said.
The $90,000 yearly maintenance cost of natural fields will also be saved, he said.
And the weather will no longer keep students from being active, he said.
"The youngsters that are in our physical education classes, instead of not being able to use these field during the rainy season after it rains, will be on those fields an hour after it stops," he said.
Free of mud or uneven gopher holes, synthetic turf is safer than grass, Bob Cramner-Brown, president of the Gunn Sports Boosters, said.
His son slipped in the mud of Gunn's natural-grass field last year while taking a kick, he said.
"You could hear the crack of his arm breaking from the other side of the field," he said.
The sudden announcement of the donation last week caused school officials to rush to get it approved so fields could be ready by next fall, Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.
"We don't know if unforeseen delays will arise during construction," he said, asking the board to approve the donation Tuesday night.
"This project will bring our stadiums up to the standards of neighboring schools … [and there are students who plan to play football in the fall and who plan to use this field to play," Skelly said.
But board members were hesitant to hurriedly green-light the project.
The short time-line of approval meant many community members may be unaware of the turf fields, board President Camille Townsend said.
A handful turned out Tuesday to echo Townsend's concerns about the short notice precluding participation.
Although the district currently plans to use the fields for school-day classes and routine sports, non-school groups would likely get in on the act, Southgate resident and Paly neighbor Jim McFall said.
"Turf by its nature facilitates increased use. That's why you put it in -- so you can use the field more," he said.
"Adult leagues are all over Palo Alto. Undoubtedly, they'll want to use this wonderful resource that's available 24/7," he said.
And the noise from inevitable increased use would disturb neighbors, who have not yet been adequately informed by the district about the proposed construction, he said.
Residents who live near Gunn also voiced concerns about the speedy, sudden project.
Dirt and debris from eventual springtime construction would be a nuisance to residents if dumped on the Strawberry Hill area behind Gunn's current grass field, Barron Park resident Douglas Graham said.
"I'm concerned about the proposal to use the Strawberry Hill area for further dumping," he said. Earlier dumping of debris there means that "mud flows through neighboring properties after every heavy storm," he said.
Strawberry Hill is already terribly polluted and degraded from earlier dumping, Barron Park resident Winter Dellenbach agreed.
Rather than depositing displaced dirt on Strawberry Hill, the district could donate it to the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge to help reconstruct the site of the old Cargill plant in the Redwood City baylands, she said.
Or, "the environmentally reasonable thing would be to -- duh -- take it to the landfill. That's why it's called a landfill," she said.
Board members unanimously agreed to add provisions about community involvement to their acceptance of the anonymous gift.
Between now and a February presentation of architectural designs, district officials must meet with community members to discuss environmentally sound construction practices, board members said.
If materials were to be dumped on Strawberry Hill, the district would have to organize meetings with neighboring residents, they said.
And the district must create a protocol for how to meet with the community every time a new group applies to use the turf fields, they said.
The provisions would allow concerns to be heard without derailing fund acceptance and discouraging future donors with a lengthy, belabored approval process, Board Member Mandy Lowell said.
"We need to think about our friendliness to donors," she said.
"We should be standing up and cheering about this ... [rather than saying 'We'll get back to you in a month,'" she said.
In other business, the board:
* Voted unanimously to give take back the site of former Garland Elementary School from its current lessee, the private Stratford School. Stratford has three years before it must vacate the site.
Re-acquiring the site will allow the district to open a thirteenth elementary school or come up with other solutions to cope with growing enrollment, board members agreed at the last meeting.
* Agreed that all district employees will receive a 2.5 percent salary raise this year -- a figure with which Superintendent Skelly expressed disappointment. He said he wished there were more money in the district to provide a bigger increase because "inflation is running higher than 2.5 percent."
Full details about proposed changes to employee contracts are available online at http://pausd.org/community/board/downloads/brd_packet/pkt_111307.pdf.
* Bid farewell to departing board members Mandy Lowell and Gail Price, who have each served eight years. Representatives of Palo Alto-based Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Senator Joe Simitian were among the many who turned out to praise the two members for their service.
New board members Melissa Baten Caswell and Barbara Klausner will be sworn in at the Dec. 11 board meeting, where incumbent Camille Townsend will begin an additional four-year term.