Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Historic Commission Debates Artificial Turf for High School Field

Commission overrules its staff to allow Washington High School to install artificial turf field.

By - May 12th, 2022 07:11 pm
Conceptual rendering of a synthetic field at Washington High School. Image from MPS.

Conceptual rendering of a synthetic field at Washington High School. Image from MPS.

Depending on how you look at it, the Historic Preservation Commission was presented with a complicated decision or an incredibly simple one.

The commissioners faced a packed committee room at City Hall Monday afternoon as Milwaukee Public Schools sought to install an artificial turf field at Washington High School, 2525 N. Sherman Blvd. The school is subject to historic oversight because it’s located in the Sherman Boulevard Historic District.

“The reason that we have a big audience for this is going to be clear shortly,” said Jacqueline Drayer, a contractor functioning as a commission staff member.

She recommended the appointed commissioners reject the synthetic field, planned for the corner of N. Sherman Blvd. and W. Center St.

“The Sherman Boulevard Historic District preservation guidelines specifically say regarding landscaping: use traditional landscaping, fencing, siding, paving, and street lighting that is compatible with the character and period of the district. Avoid introducing landscape features, fencing, street lighting or signage that are inappropriate to the character of the district,” said Drayer. “The commission and staff have a tradition of recommending against Astroturf at this site.”

The commissioners overruled Drayer.

“The problem I have with this recommendation is that I don’t know that this is classically landscaping. This is a purpose-built athletic field,” said Alderman Robert Bauman, the Common Council appointee on the commission. “This is a different animal than landscaping in my judgment.”

“I don’t think that this could be qualified as landscaping,” said Commissioner Rafael Garcia.

Commission staff member Tim Askin said his past recommendations were only about residential yards

“Today is a victory for our children,” said Alexander Hardy of Common Ground Southeastern Wisconsin. He said the current field has numerous holes and flooding issues.

“I think it’s our pleasure,” said commission chair Patti Keating Kahn. “I think it’s fantastic actually.”

Common Ground has raised more than $862,000 to support the $2.3 million project. MPS will cover the remainder. The proposal includes not only a new dual-use football and soccer field but also a new, 400-meter rubberized track, two half-court basketball courts and a storage shed. It would also include a new stormwater management system designed to capture runoff.

Other organizations backing the project include the Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, Fund for Lake Michigan, Green Bay Packers, Herb Kohl Philanthropies, Sherman Park Community Association, Educators Credit Union, Center Street Business Improvement District and the school’s alumni association.

Synthetic fields are desirable for their lower cost of maintenance and higher capacity for use. Natural grass fields can be more easily worn down by overuse. The newer synthetic fields are also believed to reduce injuries.

The field would be a newer version of ones already installed at other MPS facilities, including Bradley Tech High School, Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education and South Stadium.

According to a consultant, the field would have a base of sand and rubber. The carpet surface would last for 12 to 13 years, and while the underlying base and stormwater system are costly to install, they can be reused.

The school building to the south was constructed in 1916 by the firm of Van Ryn & DeGelleke. “Beautiful example of English and Elizabethian Revival architecture,” said Drayer.

The commission has found living things worthy of designation in the past, only to be overruled by the Common Council. In 2019, the commission ruled the Kiley tree grove at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts was a historically-significant part of the building and shouldn’t be removed. The council overruled the commission on appeal and the grove was removed.

3 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Historic Commission Debates Artificial Turf for High School Field”

  1. frank a schneiger says:

    As a former Washington High School quarterback, (well, okay, it was 63 years ago (1959)), with a deep commitment to our school’s great athletic heritage, a strong commitment to all things natural in life, and a belief that we should do the best for today’s Purple and Gold athletes, this decision is a no-brainer. Install the artificial turf field asap, including an improved 400-meter track, which I assume is part of the package. No more mud; no more uneven surfaces; no more days needlessly lost to bad weather. And a clear message to today’s athletes that people care about them and want them to have a first-class field and track.

  2. mkeumkenews09 says:

    It is past time for the responsibilities and scope of authority of the Historic Preservation Commission and its staff to be reduced. There is no sense in an issue like this even being considered by them or their staff.

  3. NieWiederKrieg says:

    Graduated from Washington High in 1972… Did a lot of laps around that field during gym class… Then my girlfriend got me started on smoking cigarettes and marijuana… Kicked the marijuana habit after we broke up but it took nearly a dozen attempts to kick the nicotine addiction (with the help of my doctor).

    Thank you Dr. Timothy Jest.

    P.S. Purgolders rule.

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