The Ashland School Board approved continued fundraising for an artificial turf field at Ashland High School by a vote of 4 to 1 Monday night.

The Ashland School Board approved continued fundraising for an artificial turf field at Ashland High School by a vote of 4 to 1 Monday night.

A crowd of about 15 people, including parents, coaches and doctors, appeared to speak in favor of the proposed field and allay the board's concerns about the safety of artificial turf.

The board delayed making a decision earlier based on concerns that lead encapsulated in the blades of grass and chemicals in the crumb rubber infill of the field created too much uncertainty about student safety. The booster club returned with answers to several of the board's concerns, including a lead-free turf product made by Mondo, which would cost about $500,000 more than the $850,000 for the proposed field manufactured by Field Turf, said Curt Bacon, treasurer of the club.

If the district chose the lead-free option, the club would ask for a fundraising partnership with the district, Bacon said. The club was not willing to raise funds for a replacement sod field.

"You've had to make decisions like this before," Bacon told the board, citing the decision to have students cross Siskiyou Boulevard for music and P.E. classes at Lincoln Elementary. "The probability of something going wrong there is higher than on field turf."

Athletic Director Karl Kemper pointed to his young son during the meeting, explaining that he would be a freshman in high school when the turf field was 10 years old, an age when concerns about lead are the highest.

"I'm not taking safety lightly," he said.

The club brought in Dr. Michael Stone, a family physician, who presented the board with a summary of studies and reports about artificial turf he felt were most valid, including a study on the lead content of chocolate.

"If you eat an ounce of chocolate, you approach the maximum lead exposure that you get with field turf," he said.

Dr. Edward Kerwin offered the opposite view, saying that although artificial turf may reduce allergens to players, the higher heat and impact on joints made him lean the other direction.

"I'm not an expert on this — I'm an allergist, not an orthopedist — but I think there may be more advantages of natural turf than artificial turf."

Most who spoke said their children and teams preferred turf over grass.

Jeanne Chouard of Ashland Soccer Club said more than 300 soccer players would benefit from the field.

"Every year it's a struggle because the grass fields just can't take the wear and tear from our community, and we have to cancel games because the fields are unusable," she said.

Most kids who play soccer will still play more than half of their games on artificial turf because the fields are being installed in so many neighboring communities, she said.

Board member Amy Patton was the lone dissenting vote, saying she could not overcome the safety concerns and would prefer the lead-free Mondo product even with the added cost.

"Until we have better information and more clear ways to address these concerns, I would be in favor of maintaining and improving our grass field," she said.

Heidi Parker, who abstained from a vote earlier this month that resulted in a tie, said her optimum field was still grass, but that the district could not afford to maintain a natural field on its own with a tight upcoming budget year.

Having guidelines from state environmental health specialist Kenneth Kauffman helped sway her decision.

"We're in the fortunate position of having it become a national issue right now, and I think in the long run, that will help us," she said. "We're more likely to get a safer product."

The board passed agreed to let the booster club continue fundraising on the condition that staff members develop maintenance practices for board review and that the field chosen have the lowest possible or no lead content.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.