$750,000 OK'd for athletic field upgrades in Mt. Lebanon

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By a 3-2 vote, Mt. Lebanon commissioners on Monday designated $750,000 toward municipal athletic field improvements, including installation of artificial turf.

John Bendel, Dave Brumfield and Kristen Linfante supported the measure, which draws from the municipality's surplus funds. Kelly Fraasch and Matt Kluck voted against it.

The proposed field-enhancement project, at an estimated cost of $999,700, would cover 110,000 square feet of surfaces on the Middle and Wildcat fields in the Main Park complex, off Cedar Boulevard.

The remaining money is to come from fundraising efforts by sports organizations that use the facilities.

Monday's action by commissioners allocates $637,400 toward the project, representing $500,000 from the municipal surplus along with $137,400 that previously had been earmarked toward improvements at Brafferton Field, in Sunset Hills Park. Projected costs for that project came in at far more than original estimates.

The additional $112,600 toward Main Park will be considered at a future commission meeting.

The impetus toward the project comes from a shortage of multipurpose fields to accommodate a growing number of participants in youth sports programs.

The commissioners who voted in favor contend that the improvements will help raise Mt. Lebanon's profile.

"I think this is something that, without a doubt, benefits us as a whole," said Mr. Brumfield, a longtime proponent of installing artificial turf.

Ms. Linfante agreed, saying improvements "have been years in the making."

"I do believe that this project will bring value to every single home in this community," she added.

Mr. Bendel noted that the municipality is not paying for the entire project.

"There is a big financial contribution expected from the sports groups to come into play here," he said.

Ms. Fraasch expressed concerns about the type of artificial turf the municipality is pursuing, saying she considers it to be unhealthy. She also questioned the process by which money was earmarked toward the turf project, calling it a "mishmash."

Mr. Kluck, whose term expires at the end of the year, said he wonders about the use of surplus funds for field improvements.

"Are we assigning them in a way that best suits the municipality?" he asked. "There are a lot more options out there."

Several residents spoke about the proposal prior to the vote. Among the supporters was Dave Franklin, a member of the Mt. Lebanon Sports Advisory Board, which commissioners formed last year to examine sports-related issues and provide recommendations. He acknowledged the fundraising efforts that are necessary to complete the project.

"I can't think of a proposal that places as much emphasis on the stakeholders as this one," he said. "What we're counting on is the collective effort of every single person who uses the fields."

James Cannon of Craigview Drive -- whose 2012 presentation to commissioners, "Keeping It Real: The truth behind artificial surfaces in Mt. Lebanon," can be viewed on the municipal website -- reiterated his opposition.

"I don't see the turf as a need, per se. I see it as a want," he said. "It's going to serve a very small segment of our population.

"The lack of artificial turf, to date, has not prevented people from living here," Mr. Cannon added. "I don't see that changing."

Details: mtlebanon.org.

Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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