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At its June 2 meeting, the Poway City Council approved $3.3 million in redevelopment funds to convert two grass fields at Meadowbrook Middle School and Valley Elementary School into three artificial turf fields.

City staff recommended the action, citing demand for more recreational sports fields, decreased maintenance costs, and annual water savings of nine million gallons. A city report said the conversion would free up 180 more days a year in access because the fields wouldn’t be shut down for fertilization, sod installation, and wet weather.

Dena Fuentes, the city’s Redevelopment Services director, called it an investment to increase recreational programs and preserve fields the Poway Unified School District might not be able to support due to state budget cuts.

“We realize that a $3.3 million investment will not be recouped through lower maintenance expenses and cost savings, but the benefits of the synthetic turf are more than just the economics,” Fuentes told the council.

While representatives from local youth sports organizations supported the idea, resident Dee Fleischman voiced environmental and health concerns over the materials in artificial turf – such as crumb rubber and lead – particularly as the product ages.

“We have unanswered questions that are legitimate,” said Fleischman. “Just so this doesn’t come back and bite us, let’s get some more data. She asked the council to wait until a California study is released in 2010.

Staff research included reviewing studies done in New York and Connecticut. Also, the artificial turf installed at Poway High School has had no reports of poisoning or increased injuries, said Mike Tarantino, the district’s director of maintenance and operations.

“The safety of the kids is paramount,” said councilman Jim Cunningham. “The notion that I would approve anything that would have a remote chance of causing cancer in kids…is just not going to happen.”

Present at the meeting were mayor Don Higgenson and councilmembers Betty Rexford, Jim Cunningham, and Carl Kruse. Councilwoman Merrilee Boyack was absent.

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