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Ashland $97K from turf goal

After a long series of fuzzy estimates and soft deadlines, Susan Bacon and her team of fundraisers now have a firm target at which to aim in order for the Ashland School District to finally move ahead with renovating the Ashland High School football field: Eight days and $97,000.

That’s the plan according to a press release sent out Tuesday by Bacon, the Ashland Schools Foundation executive director who’s determined to have the entire $1.56 million price tag covered by the time the school board meets to discuss the progress of the field project Wednesday, March 30.

The “hard and fast fundraising blitz” will include personal meetings, mailings and visits with targeted businesses as the district looks to put the finishing touches on a drive that officially kicked off almost exactly a year ago — on March 24, 2015 — when Ashland High alum and longtime Major League pitcher Jeremy Guthrie verbally committed $650,000 to the project.

The hard part now, says Bacon, will be to quickly identify enough donors to close the gap in time.

“I have high confidence we’ll get there, though,” she said in a text Tuesday night. “We’re too close to fail.”

Bacon elaborated in the release, a two-page document that plotted the district’s effort to replace the grass at Walter A. Phillips Field with a synthetic turf. The project, once completed, will include a 65-yard wide field with natural infill instead of crumb rubber, new stadium lights and raised bleachers on the visitors’ side.

“With the many changes the project has endured and through a multitude of changing estimates, it’s nice to finally have some very specific numbers in front of us,” Bacon said. “We are reaching out to all parents in the district for donations of all sizes. Flyers went home with elementary students on Friday, and are being mailed to middle and high school families this week. All children — even those who do not play football or soccer — will benefit from the new facility. For the first time, the school will have an all-weather outdoor classroom space for P.E. classes that will be accessible to all students. The current field is too soggy and fragile to be used and there really is no other appropriate space.”

The district has chosen Hellas Construction to handle the renovation and, according to Bacon, an original estimate of $1.75 million was chopped significantly by, among other factors, “value engineering” and an in-kind subcontractor gift.

Other large donations included a $100,000 gift from Lithia Motors and $25,000 from Sid and Bryan DeBoer.

While most of the project will be funded by donations, the district will cover the replacement of the lights, as well as the costs of architectural work and permits.

The district had originally planned to replace the grass with a more traditional synthetic turf stuffed with rubber infill, but support for a more expensive organic infill grew after the school board and superintendent Jay Hummel looked into the risks of playing on a rubber field.

“The more we learned about the natural fill, and all the advantages that it brings, and the relief of safety concerns, the more we felt it would be right for Ashland and our children,” Hummel said. “Once the federal investigation was announced in February, we no longer felt we could consider crumb rubber and began trying to figure out how to make the natural fill happen.”

Donations to Ashland’s turf project can be made through the Ashland Schools Foundation at www.ashlandschoolsfoundation.org/Page.asp?NavID=105.

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.