If someone were to ask me to choose between an artificial and a natural turf field, I would definitely choose the natural turf field. However, I don’t think it’s fair to ignore the benefits that artificial turf fields offer in terms of flexibility of use by the community.
All things being considered, I do believe the environmental advantages of natural grass turf remain obvious. I find it unfortunate though that those advantages seem minimal against the massive marketing campaigns on the internet supporting the artificial turf industry. The arguments in support of the artificial turf industry go as far as citing scientific reports on environmental and health benefits. We’ll let that be for now as I continue to focus on the ‘one side pays all’ partnerships.
A ‘Thin’ in Nature Press Release
In the recent ‘thin’ press release, the Town announced a partnership with the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) to build an artificial turf field for the new Dr. G.W. Williams Secondary School on Bayview, at a budgeted cost of $2,575,000, full size washrooms included. Needless to say this is another interesting partnership to discuss, paid in full by the taxpayer.
It Started in Closed Session
From a public information standpoint, the first indication that there was something going on between the Town of Aurora and YRDSB was in the November 9th, 2021 Closed Session Public agenda with three items: School Board Partnership, Funding Strategy and Additional Information (whatever that was).
It’s important to recall that the agendas for Closed Session meetings are made public, discussions are not. However afterwards, Council votes on the Closed Session Items in public view. Usually there is very little public interest in Closed Session meetings as the agenda item descriptions are cryptic in nature and therefore difficult to follow or connect to Open Session topics.
November 9th, 2021 Closed Session Public Meeting Details
Agenda Source: https://pub-auroraon.escribemeetings.com/Meeting.aspx?Id=6227394b-03c2-4438-b3ec-c8374bb63db3&Agenda=Agenda&lang=English
Watch Council Comments & Vote: https://youtu.be/bZnNQv1sVJM?t=11
Recorded Vote on the School Board Partnership: Cllr Humfryes (Yes), Cllr Kim (Yes), Cllr Thompson (Yes), Cllr Gallo (No), Cllr Gilliland (Absent), Mayor Mrakas (Yes), Cllr Gaertner (Yes).
Cllr Gallo before voting on the first closed session item stated: “Can’t say much. I do for the record want to state that I will be voting against this. Once again it’s a decision that I think is is an error because we’re being forced to make a decision. The impact of this decision is a direct impact on the tax dollars, tax base. I can’t agree with that. There were, I believe options that we could have pursued. Unfortunately we’re not and this is another one of those decisions that I guess will go down in history and I want, for the record, to state that I am in complete disagreement with moving forward with this.”
Mayor Mrakas had a totally opposite view: “I think this is an incredible decision that will benefit the community.”
Well considering both points of view, it would be great to know more about this incredible decision with a direct impact on our tax dollars.
We must care for each other more, and tax each other less.Bill Archer
Perhaps that leads to the next Closed Session Item, the Funding Strategy which typically means that the Town may not have cash on hand. To take on more municipal debt the Town must have a strategic payment plan in place. It is unknown at this point if the potential debt is part of, or in addition to, our already existing $30,000,000 debt (accumulated under this Council term).
Three Artificial Turf Items in Draft Budget 2022, Only One Discussed
Yes, only one artificial turf item was discussed during the November 20, 2021 Budget 2022 meeting, and that was the potential $4,500,000 St. Anne’s artificial turf field. You can read all about it here: Who is Going to Pay for Another Partnership?
The other two artificial turf sports fields in partnership with school boards, Artificial Turf Location #1 for $2,725,000 and Artificial Turf Location #2 for $2,800,000, totaling $5,525,000 presented were not discussed. I also believe that these two were the Town versus school board partnerships discussed in the November 9th, 2021 Closed Session.
As a matter of fact, I think there might have been an inadvertent disclosure by Cllr Kim revealing the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) turf partnership for Dr. G.W. Williams Secondary School; however, a Point of Order was called by Cllr Gallo before he could say more. Watch here: (02:57:29) https://youtu.be/ZgfpEDosPnY
I presume negotiations continued behind closed doors after the lengthy November 2021 budget meeting because the approved Budget 2022 now reads Artificial Turf Location #1 at reduced budget of $2,575,000 and Artificial Turf Location #2 for $2,800,000 was removed all together. The Draft budget document used for the agenda during the November 20, 2021 meeting is now neither available nor referenced.
Strangely enough this was added to the meeting minutes:
Staff noted that the following proposed Growth and New Capital Projects has been removed from the 2022 Budget: Operational Services 73250 Artificial Turf – Location #2
Staff noted that following proposed Growth and New Capital Project budget has been reduced from $2,725,000 to $2,575,000: Operational Services 73201 Artificial Turf – Location #1
Positive Spin Press Release
On March 3rd, 2022 The Auroran, Brock Weir wrote, “When the new Dr. G.W. Williams Secondary School building opens at Bayview and Borealis Avenues for the 2025-2026 school year, it will boast a new artificial turf field in a partnership between the Town of Aurora and the York Region District School Board.” Partnership aside, note that the Dr. G.W. Williams Secondary School new completion date was also announced. Back in 2018 The Auroran reported out that: “Board currently plans for the new Dr. G.W. Williams Secondary School to be open by September 2023 at the earliest.” Now four years later, it appears the YRDSB is indirectly letting us know about the school opening delay.
Mayor Mrakas made a statement: “I am pleased to announce this new partnership with the YRDSB to bring our community another artificial turf field. This new field will allow for more opportunities for community groups and athletes to enjoy games and seasonal play in the Town. This is great news for our sporting community and will encourage active and healthy living in Aurora.”
Mayor Mrakas chose not to mention that this single partnership will cost taxpayers $2,575,000 plus. Again, knowing the history of other partnerships, Town of Aurora taxpayers will typically absorb all future recurring artificial turf maintenance/repair costs, washroom facilities maintenance/repair costs, lighting system maintenance/repair, along with utility costs: water and electricity. Not to mention the turf will need to be replaced eventually. How about liability insurance? Note after note, therefore something else to note is that 21 cents on the dollar of your tax already goes to the local school boards.
It’s interesting that the press release mentioned full size washrooms but nothing about lighting of the field at night to maximize availability. Night time use and proximity to existing residential properties means consideration will need to be given to avoid concerns in the area.
In support of artificial turf fields, here are a few interesting claims I would like to elaborate on.
The Town claims that “proven successful partnership exists with St. Max School artificial turf.” Where are the numbers to support this claim? How about tangible evidence that “town length of season increased, lower operating costs, less down time due to weather and rest periods required for natural turf.” Was St. Max School field utilized to the maximum to bring revenue to at least recover maintenance costs? In my opinion this is not how I would actually measure proven success. In order to claim such success one must clearly define the criteria for success first then show metrics, something all three budget items failed to do.
I am confidant that if I ask someone for the above details the answer would be that everything was covered in the Closed Session meeting. And that also distinguishes this partnership from St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic High School SHARED partnership presented to Council in the General Committee report No. PR11-009 on March 22, 2011. Yes, the St. Max partnership had a public report and the costs were split almost 50-50%. Let me say that again, the previous partnership was publicly disclosed and based on shared costs.
The Town continues to claim that we are losing “19 Stronach fields.” So what exactly does that mean? First of all, the Town is losing 19 Stronach marked grass turf fields and not 19 full size sports fields. The 19 Stronach fields represents 15 small, 2 medium and 2 large soccer grass fields; when all combined they easily fit into 1.5 times the existing St. Max artificial turf field area.
Mayor Mrakas claims, “more opportunities for community groups and athletes.” Note that not all community groups are Town of Aurora based community groups. And artificial turf fields are usually fenced and not always accessible to the general public for fun play.
Lastly, the Town claims market property value for sports fields at $2,000,000 per acre; that seems high.
Did Council Get this Right for the Community?
I don’t know the correct answer. Definitely there is a benefit to community groups since sports fields are needed, especially in a growing community. However, in my opinion this should have been at least a SHARED partnership between the Town of Aurora and YRDSB school board instead of taxpayers being on the hook for another $2,575,000.
Perhaps the question is better directed to Mayor Mrakas and the majority of Council actually prepared to spend $5,525,000 on two artificial turf fields without the transparency expected by the taxpayers.
Anna Lozyk Romeo
1] Growth and New Capital, 2022 to 2023 Budget, Tab 18-26 & 18-27 (file type PDF).
2] $630,000 Kwik Kopy Boardwalk for St. Andrew’s College (private school).
3] $4,493,900 (potential) Artificial Turf Sport Field for St. Anne’s (private school).