Norwin (PA) to take long-range look at maintaining athletic fields

Getting Norwin’s baseball and softball fields in shape to play each spring is a race against the clock that the district’s maintenance crew often loses.

“The first ball games are scheduled for early March, so it’s still winter when we have to start working on getting the fields ready,” said Walter Lehman, the district’s director of facilities. “We do our best to make them playable and safe, but they are not in ideal condition.”

The short window of opportunity to work on the fields means the district often has to forgo important maintenance such as soil testing, grading, fertilization and applying pesticides.

To address the problem, the school board on Monday voted unanimously to authorize Norwin Athletic Director Brandon Rapp to develop a long-range plan for refurbishing the fields and create a yearly schedule to maintain their condition. The measure also directs Lehman’s department to come up with short-term solutions for addressing field maintenance.

“Anything you do in western Pennsylvania in the spring regarding field maintenance is typically a Band Aid,” Rapp said. “Oftentimes, we’re already halfway through the season before our ground crew has a chance to get on the field to do work.”

Tom Belchick, president of Norwin’s baseball boosters group, said the fields are plagued with bare patches where grass once grew; divots and puddling caused by poor drainage has raised concerns about safety.

“We have a problem with ground balls taking very bad hops because of the condition of the surface,” he said. “We (the boosters) are willing to do our part to improve the condition of the field. But we need an actual plan that the (school) board will support before we can look for ways to help.”

Rapp told the board that among the options he would like to explore is the feasibility of outfitting the baseball fields with artificial turf, which is growing in popularity at the high-school level.

“I’m not saying that is the best way to go, but there are a number of school districts going in that direction, so it’s something that I’d at least like to look at,” he said.

School board President Thomas Sturm said artificial turf was considered when the fields were refurbished in 2003.

“I suggested going with artificial turf, but people scoffed at the idea,” Sturm said. “Now that we are once again looking for solutions for the fields, we should at the very least weigh the cost of artificial turf against what we have to spend on manpower and all the water and chemicals needed to properly maintain a grass field.”

Sturm noted that because officials are considering a plan to replace the worn artificial turf on the football field, it might be cost effective to do the ball fields at the same time.

Despite financial uncertainties, the school board is still mulling over a proposal to borrow for projects such as new turf and running track at the stadium, repairs to the high school roof and upgrades to other district buildings.

Lehman said he generally favors artificial turf because it requires less maintenance.

But if the district decides to continue using grass, he would like to see limits placed on the use of the field during the summer so crews have time to properly groom the playing surface.

“Right now, all of our fields are used quite a lot,” he said. “We don’t necessarily want to limit their use, but keeping people off the field at certain times of the year might have to be incorporated into our maintenance plan.”-Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at