MAPLEWOOD, NJ - The South Orange Maplewood Board of School Estimate approved a resolution for issuing approximately $160 million in bonds for school projects.

Projects include upgrading the air conditioning and renovations and additions to the elementary schools in South Orange and Maplewood, South Orange Middle School, Maplewood Middle School, and Columbia High School. Replacing turf at Underhill Field and installing turf and lighting to Ritzer Field are also included in the $157,386,058 budget for school upgrades.

Underhill and Ritzer Fields are used by the athletic teams at Columbia High School.

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Whether to transform Ritzer Field from grass into turf has been a hot button issue, with many coaches, students, student athletes, faculty members and residents supporting the turf and others opposed to it.

"From my being here, there are passionate advocates on both sides of the issue," said South Orange Maplewood Superintendent Ronald Taylor, who officially started as superintendent on July 8. "The public used great decorum and professionalism when speaking about their side of the issue. The board thoroughly reviewed the information they were given by the students and the public."

Supporters of the turf say it will be easier to maintain and won't wear and tear with holes in it like grass does. Holes in the grass can cause injuries for student athletes, according to athletes and coaches who spoke out during South Orange Maplewood Board of Education meetings held in June, prior to the July 10 Board of School Estimate meeting where the $160 million in bonds was approved.

Residents who don't support the adding turf say grass is better for the environment, won't be as expensive to maintain as turf, and say that a grass field will last longer.

"It's not hard to take care of natural grass," said local resident Jane Conrad during the Board of School Estimate meeting last week. "Turf fields only last 10 years. We'll spend more time paying for the field than it will last usage wise."

Another resident Dan Detrick said he is in favor of the bond but told the Board of School Estimate that the items improved "can't fall apart before they are done being paid for."