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New project will finance synthetic turf athletic fields at all four Boone County public high schools

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

It didn’t take long for students at Cooper, Conner and Boone County high schools to find out they’ll soon be getting synthetic turf athletic fields built on campus.

“Once the story kind of broke on social media (Friday), I had a good amount of football kids coming in (my office) with big smiles on their faces,” said Randy Borchers, athletic director and head football coach at Cooper.

Football games on muddy fields between Cooper and Conner will become a thing of the past once both schools get synthetic turf fields. (File photo by Dale Dawn)

On Thursday night, the Boone County Board of Education approved a project to replace the natural grass fields at the three public high schools with synthetic turf.

The project also includes upgrading the current synthetic turf field at Ryle High School and a full track rebuild with rubber coating at both Conner and Boone County.

Estimated cost of the multi-school project is $4.78 million. The money became available after the Boone County Board of Education received additional revenue from underpayment in taxes by a global company with a presence in the county.

“This (project) is something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but the funding has never been there due to other needs that we’ve had,” said Eric McArtor, chief operating officer for the Boone County Board of Education.

“It’s going to be a great thing for all of our kids, and great for our school district to come up equal with playing surfaces with everybody else,” McArtor added.

At the present time, 14 of the 26 public and private high schools in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties have synthetic turf fields they use for football and soccer games and lacrosse matches.

Cooper, Conner and Boone County will join that list during the 2021-22 school year, if the school board project goes according to plan.

Eric McArtor

“This coming fall we’ll definitely still have grass fields for the football and soccer season,” McArtor said. “But then, after that season is over in the late fall, so I’m talking November and December, in our opinion that’s when the process will start. And we want to have it done for the next school year.”

Three years ago, Conner High School started a fund-raising drive of its own to build a durable synthetic grass field that would benefit several different sports teams as well as the school band and physical education classes.

The school hoped to raise between $630,000 and $750,000 so no tax dollars would be used for the project, but finding corporate sponsors was not easy. That all changed with the board of education’s surprising announcement during Thursday night’s meeting.

“We’re very fortunate that they’re able to do this for us,” said Conner athletic director Jim Hicks.

“It helps all sports, not just football and soccer,” Hicks added. “It really helps out our band as well and gives us opportunities for the softball and baseball teams to use it. And with the growing sport of lacrosse, it could give us a chance to raise a team someday. That’s something on grass fields we’d never be able to do, so we can get more students involved in athletics.”

Boone County athletic director Lance Melching said a synthetic turf field will solve problems at his school that the other ones in the county don’t have.

“Because  we’re landlocked and we do not have a practice field, football and soccer and baseball and softball all have had to share the same spaces,” Melching said. “As you can imagine, that puts quite a burden on those fields and none are in great shape by the end of the fall season. Now we will be able to lessen the burden on the existing fields as well as keep our kids on campus more often.”

Borchers said having a synthetic turf field will also have a positive impact on students at Cooper. He’s anxious for the project to get underway, but knows it will take some time.

“We’re still in the early stages is my understanding,” Borchers said. “As excited as I am, I would rather wait a year to make sure things are done the right way. And I’ve got 100 percent faith in our board and our superintendent to do this the right way.”

As a head football coach, Borchers sees a lot of benefits to having a synthetic turf field. He won’t have to cancel or adjust practice sessions due to sloppy field conditions or make drastic adjustments for home games.

“If it rains hard on Thursday night or early Friday, it really changes what you can or can’t do when you’re playing on a grass field because you know you’re going to be dealing with a mess,” he said. “This way, you’re really just looking at what the weather will be like during the game and don’t really have to adjust to the weather two or three days out.”

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