Posted June 21, 2012
FREELAND, MI — For Jeff Bell, there may be only one thing better than getting an artificial turf football field at Freeland High School.
Getting one that doesn’t cost Freeland High School anything.
“It costs the school district absolutely nothing,” the Freeland High School athletic director said. “That was huge. It takes nothing out of the school budget, but can add so much for the school.
“All of this happened so fast, my head is still spinning.”
It began with the annual athletic association meeting in the spring.
“We always talk about how much it costs to maintain the athletic fields … we talk about it every year,” Bell said. “This year, though, somebody asked me to get some numbers on what it costs to have an artificial turf field so we can compare and see how long it would cost for us to pay it off.”
So on May 31, Bell started getting quotes.
Meanwhile, Freeland’s track team — and its fans — went to Comstock Park for the Division 3 state track meet.
“The complex is two years old with brand new turf … it was really nice,” Bell said. “I got a price for artificial turf. When the guys got back from Comstock Park, they came up to me and said that we had a donation of $300,000. The field at Comstock Park was just gorgeous. We came to find out that it was the same company (A-Turf) that gave us the quote.”
The $300,000 gift came from Ron and Michele Schauman.
According to Bell, the total cost of the artificial turf was $642,800. The cost of maintaining the main grass football field was estimated at $7,000 per year.
“So there is that savings,” Bell said. “Plus with artificial turf, we think we’re a real good drawing card for playoff games for football and soccer. For football, we’re going to try to get some of the semifinals for smaller divisions because we don’t have a lot of seating.
“The savings in maintaining the field, plus the opportunity to make money by hosting playoffs were big selling points.”
The soccer team would still use Freeland’s grass soccer complex, but the football field will come with markings for soccer also.
“We love our soccer field right now and won’t play on the artificial turf,” Bell said. “The artificial turf field is a little bit narrower than our regular field, plus it will save wear and tear on the artificial turf.
“But it gives us the ability to play soccer there. Last year, we hosted soccer regionals, and it got rained out. We had to rent Midland Stadium. Now, if it rains we can just go to the other field.”
Even with the $300,000 gift, Bell still needs to find more than $300,000 to pay for the field.
“Other groups are involved … our football program, our youth football program, other smaller groups,” Bell said. “The whole idea was to find little groups that can add up to $35,000 a year and pay it off over 10 years. We have a private financier who put the money up with the agreement that we will pay it back over the course of 10 years.”
According to Bell, the Freeland Booster Club also helped, cashing a $42,800 certificate of deposit to give to the project.
“The school board gave the OK to go ahead with project, with the stipulation that we show that it is a worthy investment,” Bell said. “They backed the program, but they still want us to give them a plan showing what it can do for the district.
“The plan is for the school to back this, through money saved, and spend the money to replace it in 15 years. The field is expected to last 12 to 15 years, but we’re projecting 15 years because we’re only playing football on it. And it will cost less than half to replace it because you’re only replacing the top level of it.”
According to Bell, work should begin the week of June 24th, as soon as the permits and contracts are approved and the equipment arrives.
“It was a bang-bang thing,” Bell said. “It’s not very often something like this happens. The A-Turf company was just finishing up two projects on the west side of the state and one near Northville. That had a project that fell through, and they were looking to fill that spot.”
Bell estimates that the company will finish the base by the end of July, with two more weeks to install the turf. He hopes the field is ready for the Aug. 23 season-opening game for the freshman and junior varsity teams.
If it’s not ready for the Aug. 23 games, Bell believes the first game on the turf will be a week later when the varsity football team takes on Ovid-Elsie on Aug. 30 in its home opener.
“The $300,000 gift was huge and made this possible,” Bell said. “It was so important, with the budget problems schools are having, that no money for this came out of the school budget.
“Everything just fell into place. It’s good to belong to this community at this time.”
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