The vandal or vandals who burned a giant dollar sign onto the East Hampton High School synthetic turf field early on July 5 has provoked worry, frustration, sadness and scorn among school officials and coaches who described the act as senseless and wasteful.
Whether that was the point remains unknown, although a five-page, typed letter left on the field in an envelope condemned the East Hampton School Board’s handling of taxpayers’ money in the economic slump, despite the obvious irony that damage the vandalism caused will cost taxpayers still more money.
“It saddens me that people would take something this beautiful and hard-earned and destroy it,” said Joe Vasile-Cozzo, the East Hampton School District Director of Athletics. “You’re hurting the kids and the community. This is something we were all proud of and now we have to sit there and repair it. I don’t know what the reason for this is.”
“We’re disappointed, frustrated,” said Bill Barbour Jr., the East Hampton High School varsity football coach. “It was pretty senseless considering the fact that it’s going to cost us a lot of time and money to fix it and the kids are obviously the ones that suffer the most.”
East Hampton Superintendant Raymond Gaultieri said that he is waiting for the turf company that installed the field to provide an estimate of how much it will cost to repair the damage. He said the cost could be as high as $100,000.
The turf company will most likely have to cut out the torched middle strip that’s about 20 feet wide and about 100 feet long and put a new strip in. The tricky part is, the field lines are embroidered, not painted. So when a piece of turf is cut out, the embroidery for all the lines that are cut out must be replaced.
The cost of repair will be higher if the field was burned more deeply, Mr. Vasile-Cozzo said. “If it got into deeper levels, the subsurface, it may be an issue, but if its just carpeting, it’s just cutting it out,” he said.
The school has a $10,000 deductible with its insurance company for acts of vandalism, according to the superintendant.
“The irony is that that field is probably in the long run more cost-effective than having grass because you save on all sorts of maintenance costs,” said Mr. Barbour. “So of all the things to attack...,” he said. “You can use it all year–round, you don’t have to reseed or resod, you don’t have to worry about weather, it’s there for anyone’s use.”
The turf field, which was completed in the fall of 2007, was part of the first set of projects completed within the nearly $80 million districtwide expansion and renovation project that East Hampton School District taxpayers approved in a referendum in March 2006. It’s used for football, field hockey, girls and boys lacrosse, and girls and boys soccer. Dr.. Gaultieri said he didn’t have an individual cost for the field, but the cluster of projects done at the same time, including a new track, fencing, bleachers and an underground stormwater management system, cost a total of $1.4 million.
“My recollection is the person was trying to tell us that we should have stopped construction when the economy took a turn for the worse,” said Mr. Gaultieri of the letter. “That person obviously doesn’t understand the public bidding process and when the contracts were signed. All those contractors have a right to be paid for work they do. You can’t just stop a public project once bids have been awarded and the contracts signed.”
Mr. Vasile-Cozzo said that police had said that some type of tarp, which was soaked in gasoline, was lit on the field to cause the damage.
Detective Sgt. Chris Anderson of the East Hampton Town Police said that police were still awaiting the laboratory analysis of the burned turf. “We are investigating the possibility that more than one person was involved,” Det. Sgt. Anderson also said. He would not comment on whether they have any suspects.
Stephen Talmage, a School Board member, said that while he did not agree with the letter, it seemed to be based on the facts. “It was not 100-percent accurate, but information that you could glean from reading the papers,” he said. All in all, Mr. Talmage said, the intentional nature of the incident worried him.
“This was well thought-out,” he said. “Anyone who goes to this extent, with this level of intention, worries me, as it should worry anyone, because there’s a serious kook out there.”