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Batavia athletic field plan draws strong reactions

The Batavia High School football team practices on a field adjacent to their stadium. Batavia School District 101 has plans for an estimated $13.4 million in improvements to the high school's athletic fields, including replacing the stadium's grass with turf.
The Batavia High School football team practices on a field adjacent to their stadium. Batavia School District 101 has plans for an estimated $13.4 million in improvements to the high school's athletic fields, including replacing the stadium's grass with turf.

BATAVIA – A proposed $13.4 million plan to improve the athletic fields at Batavia High School has become controversial.

The proposed master plan for the fields has both its supporters and its detractors. School board members in July approved the improvements, which include $4.5 million for the high school’s football stadium.

That cost includes the installation of a synthetic turf field and improvements, such as boosting bleacher seating to 2,500 people from its current capacity of 1,500, a press box, a scoreboard and stadium lighting.

Also included in the plan is $4.2 million for the installation of a multi-use synthetic turf field; $1.5 million for a new maintenance garage/storage facility; improvements to both the varsity and junior varsity baseball fields; and tennis court lighting.

The plan was developed after meetings with groups that use the athletic fields, school district administration, maintenance staff and school board members. Mike Popela, president of Batavia Youth Football, is a strong supporter of the plan.

Popela said the improvements would allow the 500-member league to use the fields.

“Right now, there is not enough room,” Popela said. “We use Prairie Path Park, which is not designated for athletics. We do the best we can. A field that is designed for sports is much safer than a park.”

Popela said the idea is to raise funds to pay for the athletic field improvements and take the burden off of taxpayers. Batavia Youth Football is one of several groups that helped fund the master plan, which costs about $40,000. The organization committed $5,000 toward the plan.

In addition, both the Batavia Bulldog Boosters and Batavia Music Buffs committed $10,000 each to the plan. Batavia School District 101 also had budgeted $20,000 to pay for the plan.

Lisa Farley of the Batavia Bulldog Boosters said she is confident the organization will be successful in its continued fundraising. She said the club has raised $10,000 in the last month and a half for the proposed improvements.

Farley said having a synthetic football field would benefit other groups besides the football team. She noted that boys and girls soccer, lacrosse and marching band have to practice and compete off campus to keep the current fields in appropriate condition for games.

The items in the plan have not been prioritized. Batavia High School Athletic Director Dave Andrews said he first would like to see proper safety fencing installed around the baseball field, along with the installation of synthetic turf for the football stadium.

“The lack of proper safety fencing is a major safety issue not only for the players, but also for the fans watching,” Andrews said.

He estimated the baseball field fencing would cost between $100,000 and $400,000, while installing a synthetic turf field for the football stadium would cost about $1 million. One of the biggest advantages of having a turf field, Andrews said, is that “you don’t get rained out.”

“You don’t have to cancel games because of rain,” he said. “As long as there is not lightning outside, you can play on the field.”

Andrews said there haven’t been any major improvements to the fields since Batavia High School was built in 1966.

“There’s only been maintenance done,” he said. “There never has been any rebuilding of the fields.”

Batavia resident Sylvia Keppel recently addressed school board members with concerns that artificial turf can get extremely hot on sunny days.

“The heat retention of synthetic turf can lead to heat stroke, dehydration, muscle cramping and fatigue for the athletes,” Keppel said.

Andrews said on hot, sunny days, the high school would take the same precautions as it did during the recent heat wave.

“We have heat protocols,” he said.

Keppel also believes the project needs to be prioritized.

“It is a very expensive project that I think was rushed though,” she said. “There’s no phases that have been approved. It is just a blanket approval. I want to see the phases broken down and prioritized.”

As proposed, trees in an arboretum adjacent to the east practice field would be removed to make way for the improvements, which also has raised concerns. City arborist Frank Saupp has voiced opposition to the plans.

“It is my opinion that this site represents one of the best presentations of tree types to be found anywhere in the city of Batavia as it currently exists,” Saupp wrote in a letter to the school board.

Lydia Scott, community trees program manager for The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, also has voiced concerns.

“The diversity of the ages of trees in the Batavia arboretum is significant,” Scott wrote in a letter to the school board. “Some of the trees are 20 or more inches in diameter at breast height, indicating that they were planted many years ago – perhaps 40 or more years ago.”

Andrews said the idea would be to rededicate the trees throughout the entire outdoor stadium.

“We still want to respect the trees that are there,” he said. “We are trying to save as many as possible. If we can’t salvage one, we would replace it.”

Andrews said the trees would be planted along the walkways and throughout the footprint of the plan. He said the trees would be in a more high-profile area.

“Very few people now know the arboretum is there,” he said.

There is no timetable for the improvements to begin. The school district plans to keep the community informed as the plans progress.

Learn more

Want to view the proposed athletic field master plan for Batavia School District 101?

Visit and click on “Outdoor Sports Complex.”

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