Donor offers $500,000 for artificial turf on Amherst-Mont Vernon football field

AMHERST – The father of a former Souhegan Cooperative High School athlete has offered the school a half million dollars to install artificial turf on the football field.

School officials say the donor wants to remain anonymous.

“I’ve never received a call like that,” said Dick Miller, Souhegan’s Athletic Director, who said turf will allow the field to be used much more than it is now, giving access to many more young players.

He estimates the entire project will cost about $920,000, leaving $420,000 to be raised.

The donor put a deadline of Dec. 31 on his offer, when he “needs to know the project is a go,” Miller said, and a fundraising campaign will start this spring,

Pim Gondstra, a Souhegan School Board member and the head of the turf fundraising committee, said the committee will be meeting once a week to develop strategies, which might include Internet fundraising and the selling of inscribed bricks.

No taxpayer money will be used, he said, and called the donation “very invigorating and very exciting.”

The committee intends to install a turf field with or without the donation, he said, because “area youth sports programs will benefit tremendously.”

The Sabers’ field is used for some soccer and lacrosse as well as for high school and middle school football, and artificial turf will allow it to be used much more than it is now. Pop Warner football, for example, doesn’t use it for fear of overuse.

“Grass can only take so much wear and tear,” Miller said. “I have a great grounds crew, but it can only take so much.

Turf will allow an almost unlimited amount of play, he said, including use in early spring and late fall, for roughly eight to 10 years, including spring use “as soon as the snow is cleared.”

“This is something we’ve been talking about on and off” since Souhegan was built 23 years ago, he said.

Five years ago the district commissioned a report of school facilities and Gale Associates recommended a complete renovation of sports facilities, including artificial turf on the football field.

This summer the district is refurbishing the high school track. which encircles the football field, and Miller said the donor had been concerned that the project would affect future turf installation, Miller said, but it won’t.

Work begins in June

Work on the track is scheduled to begin in early June.

Gondstra and Miller both acknowledged there has been negative publicity about the kind of ground-up rubber turf they plan to use.

Gondstra said he would like to have a public forum to address people’s concerns, but he is confident the rubber turf is a good choice.

If all goes as planned there could be turf on the field for the 2016-17 school year, he said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or 673-3100.