An artificial playing surface at the Oak Creek High School football field has taken a big step toward becoming reality.
The Oak Creek-Franklin School Board Monday night approved a measure which kicks off the process to install the turf - commonly known by the brand name FieldTurf - prior to the start of the 2012 football season.
The turf looks like real grass but is actually is a synthetic playing surface that has become widely-used at football stadiums throughout the country. Not just at universities and pro football venues, either - many high schools, including nearby Greendale, have installed the surface as well.
Proponents of the turf point to reduced maintenance costs and safety among many reasons to install it instead of using natural grass.
In Oak Creek, the turf would save about $20,000 each year on maintenance costs, Superintendent Sara Burmeister said, and would also allow Oak Creek to host many more events than it otherwise could.
Marching band performances, soccer games, Oak Creek Youth Football games, WIAA playoffs and other community events could be held at the football field since the surface is far more durable than natural grass.
"This is finally the opportunity for the community to see the vision of the stadium coming to fruition," School Board member Paul Mason said. "There's been a vision of this for the past 10 years. There's been great work in the community to do everything they've done so far.
"The missing link at this point is having FieldTurf, so that a variety of organizations, not just football, can benefit from a large project like this."
However, there's still a big money issue.
While maintenance costs are saved over the long run, the total cost of the turf is estimated between $750,000 to $1 million. Much of the cost depends on the status of the soil currently on the field, which will determine how much prep work must be done beforehand, Burmeister said.
The turf would be likely be purchased on a three- or five-year lease, Burmeister said, which would require about $174,000 per year. Its expected lifespan is between 12 to 15 years.
Burmeister laid out a tentative funding plan at the School Board meeting last night which calls for roughly $300,000 to be taken from the community education fund. That fund can only be used for projects that would serve the whole community and not the district's general operations.
The district would also use a combination of unused money designated for capital improvements, donations, advertisement revenue and money leftover from the stadium project fundraising. Board members noted that the district could also generate revenue from renting out the field.
Mark Verhalen was the lone School Board member to vote against the proposal. He pointed to the cost and said there were "more prudent" things the district could be spending its money on.
The money saved on maintenance wouldn't be enough to justify the initial investment, he said.
"Right now is not the time to do it," Verhalen said.
The board's approval Monday is only a first step. Among other things, the board still has to select a company and finalize the cost, Burmeister said.