Home News and Features School Board Considers $5.3 Million MHS Track and Amenities  PFAS May...

School Board Considers $5.3 Million MHS Track and Amenities 
PFAS May be a Concern

Man in yellow jogging on track with wire fence in foreground.
Montpelier High School's current cinder track. Photo by J. Gregory Gerdel.
By Linda Berger

The Montpelier Roxbury Public School Board is considering a proposal to replace the high school’s aging cinder track with rubber and add an artificial turf field. This comes even as communities across the country have raised concerns about the synthetic turf containing toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, with a price tag topping $5 million.

The proposal to lay artificial turf inside a reconfigured six-lane track was presented to the board by Andrew LaRosa, Montpelier High School’s facilities director. LaRosa said that he invited a group of athletes and community members interested in the track to a private “listening session” to hear their “desires, their needs and aspirations.” This group suggested the artificial turf and new rubber track will provide a consistent playing surface, an extended season, and accessibility for students and a potential source of revenue from outside groups that would use the track to help offset the cost of the project.

Turf Material May Contain PFAS

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment and can leach into groundwater over time. Since the 1940s, they’ve been used in the manufacturing process of a variety of consumer products, including non-stick cookware and cosmetics, as well as in firefighting foam. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has linked high levels of PFAS contamination to health problems including cancer, immune system suppression, and reduced fertility.

In Bennington, PFAS from plants owned by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. contaminated the drinking water supply, reaching levels far above state guidelines. A year ago, Bennington area voters rejected a proposal for a new athletic campus at Mount Anthony Union School District, which would have included a synthetic turf field.

And in Montpelier, officials are trying to develop a plan for handling increased levels of liquid residue containing PFAS at its Water Resource Recovery Facility. The toxins run off into the Dog and Winooski rivers. 

Late last month, Boston announced it would no longer allow the installation of artificial turf in city parks because of the toxic compounds used in the manufacturing of the product. Other municipalities have instituted or called for similar bans on PFAS. 

LaRosa made no mention of PFAS concerns in his presentation, but board member Jill Remick referenced bans against artificial turf in other New England communities.

A $5.3 Million Project

The district had hired Burlington consulting company, Engineering Ventures, to complete a feasibility study about possible track improvements. The school board set aside $1.5 million from its reserve funds for the track replacement, but LaRosa told the board that the amount would fall short of the investment needed for the project by $900,000. Any track upgrades are complicated by the requirements for proper drainage on the site, which is part of the Winooski River Foodway and within the 100-year floodplain and the Agency of Natural Resources River Corridor.

The board deferred its decision on the replacement track, citing the need to resolve questions about the proposal.

Beyond the track replacement and turf field inside the track, other proposed facilities improvements include a new maintenance building, a press box, and a concession and picnic area, as well as new lighting. The total price tag would reach $5.3 million, according to LaRosa.