The new Nitschmann Middle School will have a synthetic turf playing field.
The school is being built behind the existing school at the corner of Eighth Avenue and West Union Boulevard in West Bethlehem. The $53.69 million school is expected to open in August 2017.
Once the old school is torn down, a new synthetic turf playing field will be built at the corner and be ready for play during the 2017-18 school year.
When the school board awarded construction bids for Nitschmann in 2015, directors approved an alternate bid for the $660,000 turf field.
The board has until June to rescind the contract. But an effort by Director Angela Sinkler to do failed Monday night.
Earlier this month, Director Eugene McKeon asked if the district had negotiated an out in the contract if a federal study on the safety of turf fields raises alarm bells.
"That's one of my biggest concerns," McKeon said. "We find out we have tainted fields and we are stuck with them."
Board President Michael Faccinetto reported Monday night that the manufacturer has guaranteed it will remove the crumb rubber infill on the fields, at no cost to the district, if its found to be dangerous.
"They would remove what was there at no charge," Faccinetto said. "But there's no guarantee to replace the infill at no charge."
The district stadium at Liberty High School currently has the district's only turf field, although a turf field at Freedom High School is under construction.
Bethlehem schools to borrow for new Nitschmann, Freedom turf
The board voted this year to spend $4.5 million to refresh the turf at the stadium and build a new turf field and track at Freedom. The vendors for the other two fields have made the same guarantee, Faccinetto said.
Board members had been hesitant to build a turf field at a district middle school while Freedom still did not have the one it was promised a decade ago.
Director Angela Sinkler, a nurse, continued her push to get her fellow board members to look critically at the safety of the crumb rubber infill.
Many municipalities and schools are removing their turf fields or enacting moratoriums on new fields, yet Bethlehem is plowing ahead with multiple fields, she said.
"The outcomes of exposure to these ingredients are still under a federal investigation," Sinkler said Monday night.
The Obama administration in February announced the launch of a coordinated study into the safety of recycled rubber tire crumbs, which are used as fill on many synthetic turf fields and on playgrounds. Initial results are expected by the end of 2016.
Sinkler put forward a motion to rescind the Nitschmann turf bid, which failed to pass after only Director Tom Thomasik joined her.
She acknowledge there is no definitive evidence that crumb rubber is dangerous to students but she thinks precautionary measures should be enacted. The manufacturer's promises don't assuage her concerns.
"Where will we stand if this goes awry?" Sinkler queried.
Sara K. Satullo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sarasatullo. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.
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