School board carries shelter into executive session, discusses artificial turf for stadium

Published 1:28 pm Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A topic that until now has generally been discussed in open session in previous meetings suddenly was yanked into executive session by the Picayune school board as the first order of business at its meeting at 12 noon on Tuesday.

The board for the Picayune Municipal Separate School District opened with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, as usual, then, when a motion to approve the agenda for the meeting was made, member Ray Scott requested that item 10, which was listed as  “Consider Approval of Interlocal Donation, Exercise, Maintenance and Lease Agreement for Community Shelter,” be taken into executive session..

The only reason Scott would give for his request is “legal matters.” The document, as it was listed, would be a contract. At the end of the open session of the meeting Scott confirmed that the matter concerned the construction of a hurricane shelter at the high school that would be used also as a school cafeteria.

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However, until this point, all matters concerning the construction of a community hurricane shelter at Picayune Memorial High School that would be used as a school cafeteria until needed as a shelter have been discussed in open session, and, item 10 on the agenda had been listed for public discussion until Scott made his request.

Also among those attending at the school board meeting and remaining for the executive session were Picayune Mayor Ed Pinero, who is also director of planning and development for the county; Supervisor Patrick Lee and Emergency Management Director Danny Manley. Originally on the agenda, the only items listed for executive session were a personnel matter and a student discipline matter.

Manley usually has represented the county in appearances before the school board concerning the building, which will cost about $3 million and will be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. If the agreement is made, it would be one of three shelters funded through MEMA in the county, with the other two being at the Pearl River County Fairgrounds as an exhibition hall and at the  Pearl River County School District Carriere campus as a multi-purpose building.

In its next item of business, the board gave the Maroon Tide Booster Club approval to raise money with the goal of surfacing the playing field at the high school football stadium with an artificial turf produced by EnviroTurf of Madison. The proposal was brought to the board by booster President Jimmy Mitchell, who had with him the company’s chief executive officer James M. Bateman. Mitchell and Bateman appeared confident that they could raise the money.

“We have looked at all the factors and we believe we are ready to take the next step, which is to sell advertising to finance (the installation of artificial turf),” Mitchell said. “Our goal is 100 percent financing.”

The turf would cost approximately $600,000 to install and $300,000 to replace in “12 to 15 years,” Bateman said during the course of the discussion. He said the surface is guaranteed for eight years at the outset, and that the 12-15 year estimate was arrived at through testing done by Pennsylvania State University for a field that is receiving “continuous use.” He acknowledged that no field his company has installed has been in existence for that length of time as yet. The company has installed the surface on more than 20 football fields in Mississippi, he said.

Bateman said the surface is not like the original AstroTurf that became famous more than 40 years ago when it was installed in the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, that was blamed for causing or worsening many injuries. He described Astroturf as “carpet over concrete.”

The surface his company installs is similar in density to a grass-turf field, though it does get up to 20 degrees hotter than a grass field on hot days, but cools down quickly once the sun passes over, he said.

He said the field would save the district substantially in maintenance costs and is more environmentally friendly than even a grass field because it doesn’t require pesticides to maintain and it keeps tires out of landfills by recycling them into material used in the artificial turf surface.

Bateman estimated that it would take up to 90 days to install the surface once work begins, but likely on 30 days especially if the company could begin work early. Board members want to make sure the installation, if it goes forward, would not interrupt the track season and high school graduation.

Board members said they figured they would have to set up a savings account in which to put about $30,000 a year to have the money to replace the surface when it wears out, but putting that amount of money aside every year might be more economical than the yearly costs of maintaining a grass-surfaced field.

In other matters:

— The board approved advertising for bids on air-conditioning units, which would be purchased with federal stimulus money and installed by district maintenance personnel.

— Approved a payment to Flagstar of $33,312 on construction at Nicholson.

— Approved spraying of 16th section forest land for about $12,000, to be paid out of the forestry account.

— Approved a bid of $125,044 for the Early Head Start playground at Nicholson with a provision that it could be negotiated down to the budgeted $121,000. Planet Recess of Baton Rouge, La., was the only bidder.

— Approved offering insurance to employees to cover major medical expenses such as heart attacks, strokes and organ replacement. The employees would pay for the insurance.

— Went into executive session.