Editor's note: This story was updated at 7:07 a.m. on March 24 to include comments from Western Hills High School football coach Don Miller.
Talk of synthetic turf fields has been around Frankfort for years, but then came the fall of 2019.
“Several years before I became superintendent in 2017, a group approached the board about turf fields,” Franklin County Schools Superintendent Mark Kopp said in a phone interview Monday.
“It’s something I’ve known about, but it became, I think the best word, is focused attention in the fall due to the problems with the soccer district tournaments. Also the football field at Franklin County that was unplayable by the end of the year and it was decided they needed to play a playoff game at Woodford County.”
On Friday, the Franklin County Board of Education approved putting turf on the football fields at Franklin County and Western Hills, but the fields will be available for other activities.
“First of all, it will benefit all sports,” Kopp said. “It’ll be difficult for an event to be rained out. It’ll benefit middle school and high school football, and soccer, boys and girls, at the middle school and high school level.
“My hope is in the spring, with baseball and softball, if it’s been raining, that they could go out to the football field and hold practice.”
The work will be done by the Motz Group out of Cincinnati, which is currently installing a synthetic turf field in at Kentucky State, and it’s tentatively scheduled to be completed by Aug. 7, according to Kopp. The cost is around $2 million.
“It’s hard to put an exact figure on it until they start excavation,” Kopp said, “but it will be around that.”
A capital funds request was made at Friday’s board meeting Friday. That amount is just under $550,000.
That leaves $1.4-1.5 million, and the board plans to use a general fund bond to pay off the balance over what will likely be a 10-year period, Kopp said.
In addition to school athletic events, Kopp sees the fields being year-round facilities with the potential to host sports tournaments and band contests.
“I remember two years ago, it seemed to rain almost every Friday, and the bands couldn’t perform on the fields,” Kopp said. “I thought that was so sad, that they worked so hard on their routines, and then weren’t able to do them. Now they’ll be able to.”
Kopp added that the school system would be able to save money that has been used to keep the grass fields in playing condition.
FCHS football coach Eddie James moved his team’s second-round playoff game last year to Woodford County because of the field conditions at the Flyers’ Benny Watkins Field.
“It was unfortunate, but you have to keep the kids safe,” James said.
Having teams share the field doesn’t bother James.
“Our soccer coaches are really good, our middle school football coach is good,” he said. “As long as everyone does their part we’ll be fine.
“I’m not a big proponent of practicing on it every day. We have a grass practice field on campus, and the soccer teams have a grass practice field on campus. The band could practice on it. Right now they practice in the parking lot.”
The versatility is one of the features of the field that appeals to James.
“It can be used in all kinds of ways,” he said. “I have a son who’ll play football, and my daughter will probably play soccer. For me as a parent, this is huge, and as a football coach I don’t have to worry about situations with the field. We’ll have one of the best facilities in the state."
Don Miller, head football coach and athletic director at Western Hills, sees the biggest benefit being no rainouts.
"We won't have to cancel a game unless there's lightning," he said. "It could rain for two hours before a game and we can play. That's the biggest benefit.
"Not only football, but soccer will benefit. At Sower Soccer, where Franklin County and Frankfort both play, you get 'X' amount of days to play, and this will open up a lot more dates."
Like Kopp, Miller also sees the turf field as a boon for spring sports.
"If it's been raining, maybe the softball and baseball teams could use the field and field some ground balls, get some batting practice in."
For Kopp, the students using the fields are the most important part of the change.
“We’re excited for our kids,” he said. “This is an opportunity for them to have facilities they can be proud of in soccer, football, band, everything.”