Katy ISD to spend $5M on turf

KATY, TX [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

The school district is making the change from grass to artificial turf at six of its high schools. Katy ISD officials say they've specifically earmarked the money. The KISD school board voted unanimously last week to authorize spending up to $5.2 million on artificial turf for competition fields at its six high schools. With the economy what it is, some are questioning that spending.

At Katy ISD's six high school campuses, the natural grass competition football fields are used extensively by students, not just for football, but also for soccer, track and field, pep rallies and community events. The fields are used so frequently that district staffers have said the playing surface can't be maintained as effective or even safe. Its replacement with turf is something some student athletes support.

"It's a heck of a lot better than grass," said student Trevor Welsch.

The vote to replace the grass with synthetic comes a year after Katy ISD forced a ten percent budget reduction for central office functions. Other districts also have been cutting back. Galveston ISD cut jobs and consolidated four schools. HISD let nearly two dozen teachers go and cut back on bus routes to save money.

Katy ISD has refused to comment on the expenditure on camera and no school board members returned repeated calls for comment on the vote.

The district says four of the five million dollars will come from project savings elsewhere. It's money, they say, that can only be used on capital improvements, not teachers and not operating expenses. Additionally, the district says it will save $900,000 over the 10 year projected lifespan of the turf -- money it otherwise would have spent on upkeep of grass.

Katy ISD spokesperson Steve Stanford did issue a statement which reads in part, "Because of the extensive use of the competition fields and the difficulty of keeping them well maintained, the high school athletic coordinators believe the current fields are putting students at greater risk for injury. A more sustainable surface will greatly reduce that risk."

Some question whether the money could be better spent.

Father Michael Branham said, "From a taxpayer standpoint, they've had the natural grass for so long, and they haven't had any issues with it, I don't know why they would change their mind all of a sudden."

The school district is now accepting bids for the new turf. They hope to have it installed at the end of the summer, before the new school year begins. More than 55,000 students are in Katy ISD. According to the district's website, it's one of the fastest growing in the state. It's supposed to grow about five to six percent each year up until 2016.

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