By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — With the Inter-Lakes School Board expected to address the request of the Class of 2016 to hold the graduation ceremony on the artificial turf field at the high school when it meets tonight, there is no sign that the administration has dropped its opposition to the change of venue.
Last month, students petitioned the School Board to move the graduation from Prescott Park, which supplanted the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion (Meadowbrook) as the venue several years ago.
Trish Temperino, assistant superintendent and business manager, said yesterday that she has no reason to believe either Superintendent Mary Ellen Ormond or Pat Murphy, principal of Inter-lakes High School, have retreated from their position that the ceremony would pose an unacceptable risk to the condition of the field.
"I'm not 100 percent opposed," conceded Mark Billings, who chairs the School Board, "but I'm close." He stressed that his overriding concern is "what are the risks to the field." After thorough briefing by the administrators as well Chris Wald, the facilities director, as well as a careful review of the arguments of the petitioners, he indicated that he found the risks outweighed the rewards. However, he added "I have no sense of the rest of the board."
The petitioners emphasized the shortcomings of Prescott Park for an event that draws more than 1,000 people. The restroom facilities, they said are distant and inadequate. During and after rainfall both the parking lot and the park are muddy and dank. The capacity of the tent is limited to 1,000. Above all they stressed that the field, where "championships were won and individual accomplishments were achieved," holds "an abundance of great memories." Moreover, the field lies between the two schools where many graduates spent most of their young lives.
When the petition was presented last month Randy Eifert, the parent of a graduating senior, reminded the board that the $10,000 cost of renting a tent, chairs, stage and sound system would be halved by changing the venue. Discounting the risk to the field, he pointed that both Laconia High School and Kingswood Regional High School hold their graduation ceremonies on artificial turf fields. and Kingswood.
Murphy was most concerned about the weather, explaining that the ceremony would be at the mercy of both rain and heat. She said the temperature on the artificial turf could be 10 or 20 degrees higher than on natural grass while a rain date would inconvenience those traveling from out of town.
Meanwhile,Temperino advised the board that interlocking plastic decking would be required to protect the field at a cost of $37,698 while the cost of transporting and raising a tent on the artificial turf would cost another $35,631. With the cost of renting chairs and a sound system, the the bill for the ceremony would approach $90,000.
Billings said that the risk to field was not limited to the turf, but also to "the 6 to 8 inches underneath it." He calculated that 1,200 people, with an average weight of 160 pounds apiece, would represent 98 tons on a concentrated area of a $1.5 million field. Moreover, he found that at Kingswood Regional High School the audience is seated in the grandstand, not on the field. "Laconia," he remarked, "may be the exception to every rule."
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