FARMINGTON — The Regional School Unit board of directors voted on Tuesday, April 9, to form a Turf Committee with the purpose of discussing and finalizing plans for the upgrades to Caldwell Field.

Director Jeff Barnum of New Vineyard shares his feelings on synthetic turf at the RSU 9 board of directors meeting on Tuesday, April 9. Barnum shared some potential health risks relating to synthetic turf and asked for a more informed opinion on the committee before making a final decision. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

The committee will feature RSU 9 board members Joshua Robbins of Vienna and Jeff Barnum of New Vineyard; Mt. Blue High School Principal Joel Smith; Athletics Director Cyndi Pratt; Mt. Blue Middle School Principal and Director of Operations James Black; and Mt. Blue High School All Sports Boosters Representatives Mike Bolduc and Matt Casavant.

Along with the committee, Black and Smith also presented to the board a report that states the strategic plan, cost overview, community feedback, and the vision of the turf committee.

Barnum asked at the meeting who the intended audience for the report was. Black responded by saying it was directed towards the board and the community at large.

“If somebody said ‘hey, what are we doing with the with the field?’, here is the initial plan,” Black shared with the board.

In the report, it estimates costs for the field at $1,672,697.72.


The cost is broken down to include $694,479.98 for site preparation and landscaping work, $97,227.20 for construction, and $880,990.55 for material costs. It also states in the report the turf committee has a completion goal set for 2026.

Barnum called the report “premature”, stating that he believed the committee should first investigate the potential health side-effects of synthetic turf before committing to costs and setting a completion date.

Barnum also stated that he believes the Turf Committee should include the counsel of a medical professional to give an informed opinion on the potential health hazards that come with synthetic turf.

“If I’m wrong about what I consider, and some of the other people think are the negative health effects, all we’ve lost, if I’m wrong is time,” Barnum stated, going on to say that he would rather delay the project to continue the discussion instead of putting kids at risk of potential long-term negative health effects.

Director Scott Erb of Farmington clarified the motion on the floor was for synthetic turf and the board voted in favor of synthetic turf at a previous board meeting in January.

“[The board of directors is], I believe from the vote we took, past the point where we are doing that kind of investigation,” Erb stated.


“As a potential member of this committee, I see three basic options,” Robbins stated, listing the options as taking no action, repairing what they already have in place, and seeking an “artificial surface”.

“I think that it really is important for a committee such as the one that’s proposed to take a careful look at all of those options,” he added.

Barnum went on to list child development issues, liver and kidney damage, infertility, obesity, immune system disruptions, and certain cancer risks as some of the potential health hazards that come from synthetic turf.

Discussion came to a head when Superintendent Christian Elkington stepped in to defend the committee members.

“There have been several comments made questioning the character of the people who are on the committee,” Elkington stated to the board, clarifying the vote made in January was specifically for synthetic turf and the discussion taking place was not relevant to the vote on the floor.

“I guess if we need to add some more members to this group, then we’ll add some more members,” Elkington stated. “But we’re now getting into the point of, and it doesn’t make this easy for me to say this because I have complete respect for everybody here, but we have gone way off track, and as superintendent of schools in RSU 9, I can’t put up with this anymore.”


The RSU 9 board of directors vote to form a turf committee on Tuesday, April 9, at the regularly scheduled board meeting. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

The motion to form the committee passed with a vote of 14 – 2 [Barnum and David opposed].

Discussion for replacing Caldwell Field with a synthetic turf began with the board of directors in July of last year, with Boosters President Mike Bolduc telling the board the current condition of the field only makes it available for play three months out of the year.

The board gave the boosters its blessing to begin fundraising efforts and to investigate costs for synthetic turf.

The boosters returned in January, with Casavant sharing fundraiser efforts will include the naming rights of the athletic complex in recognition of support for the project with a contribution of at least 50% of the total project costs, which is estimated by the boosters to be roughly $800,000.

At that meeting, Barnum and several other directors raised concerns over potential health risks and future costs of synthetic fields. Despite the concerns, the board voted to allow the boosters to begin fundraising, the naming rights for a proposed athletic complex at Mt. Blue Campus.

In February, Director Richard Ruhlin of Industry spoke on behalf of the boosters, sharing they were “disappointed” and “frustrated by the lack of clarity and direction” coming from the RSU 9 board of directors as to what they should be doing moving forward.

He later added that the boosters had ceased all efforts with fundraising until the board could come to a consensus on how to proceed.

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