Our Opinion: Turf field project is too important to fail

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When does an artificial turf field matter? When you don't have one. Berkshire County claims that dubious distinction (Eagle, December 29), and considering that it also boasts a proud tradition of producing fine athletes, not possessing such a surface for the Berkshires' sons and daughters to play on is both unacceptable and embarrassing.

Artificial turf, while expensive, is more resistant to the depredations of weather and running feet than its natural counterpart — so much so that the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, the state overseer of high-school sports, requires that all championship games be played on the man-made surface. The Berkshires' lack of such a field means that high-stakes matches, along with the economic bump and excitement they bring, must be played elsewhere even if a Berkshire County team is involved. Moreover, since turf responds differently than grass or dirt, local teams must travel to Westfield to practice on one. In some cases, the first time Berkshires athletes even encounter the surface is when they play their opening interscholastic match.

A turf field is more than just an issue of local pride for Berkshire County, its residents and athletes; if one thinks of athletics as an integral part of a young person's formative experience, it's a necessity. So much so that a way has been found to get the bulldozers rolling on a Berkshire turf field by this May even though the project still lacks full funding. A $1.1-million state bond bill is the centerpiece of a patchwork of financial support, which includes $200,000 from the city of Pittsfield and a host of other donors. Still lacking is the final $600,000 that would bring the complete vision home.

The key to the project's success lies in its stewardship, a role that falls to Berkshire Community College (upon whose property it will be built) and its president, Ellen Kennedy. While the multipurpose field — designed for soccer, football and lacrosse — will be located across the street from BCC's main campus, it will enjoy full public access by schools on a user-fee basis.

President Kennedy, a booster of the project even though its benefits to her college are indirect, is undaunted by the six-figure shortfall it faces. "We're looking at people who may have some capacity to help us with larger gifts," she told The Eagle. "We're looking at everybody in the community who might be wanting to see this happen — people with $25 and $100 checks."

Completing the funding could take time, which may result in postponement of the construction of a concession stand, exterior lighting and a press box. The core of the project, however — the field itself — is funded, and by its determined stewardship of the project, BCC is exemplifying the "community" in "community college."

As with any new initiative that involves engineering the environment, there have been some speed-bumps along the way as neighbors have raised concerns about matters such as drainage and possible health risks arising from the field's composite materials. These have been dealt with satisfactorily, and in good faith.

We look forward to the unveiling of the field. And we look forward to the day when the funding gap is filled on a project that is of such importance to Berkshire student-athletes and the sports their schools support.






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