ITHACA, N.Y.—If the Bombers have their way, their sports teams will be playing on some new turf next fall. Ithaca College’s plans for a redo of Butterfield Stadium have been approved by the town of Ithaca.
Located at 127 Conservatory Drive, Butterfield Stadium opened in its current form in 1976 and currently hosts four to six football games every fall, as well as intramural and club events and large outdoor gatherings for other collegiate functions. As planned, the redevelopment of the stadium calls for replacing the natural grass athletic field with synthetic turf, and installing four stadium light poles. The running track that encircles the field would be removed and relocated; tentatively the plan is to relocate it to the field north of the intersection of Textor Circle and Grant Egbert Boulevard. However, that is outside the scope of this project.
As noted previously by both The Ithaca Voice and the Ithacan student newspaper, the field will be known as “Bertino Field at Butterfield Stadium.” The project is being paid for by a $3 million donation by alumna Monica Bertino Wooden.
According to a letter provided by Erne McClatchie, Ithaca College’s Associate Vice President for Facilities, the synthetic turf and new lighting would allow expanded hours and availability for the field that is less dependent on weather conditions. “Intramural participants and Club Sport student-athletes will be directly and positively impacted by this project, and varsity sports, beyond football, will benefit from what is essentially a doubling of the current artificial turf availability.”
“As the largest contained outdoor space on campus, we also envision Butterfield Stadium hosting large-scale gatherings that benefit our neighbors and friends. Such events, activities and competitions would be in addition to daily use.” McClatchie also cited decreased maintenance costs and the reduction in irrigation and pesticide use as motivations to pursue the project.
As part of review, the project needed a sign-off from a few different agencies. The project had to obtain a Special Permit from the Town of Ithaca Planning Board, as well as site plan approval, in order to move forward with construction. Town engineers reviewed and accepted the stormwater pollution prevention plans (SWPPP) and NYS Parks determined the project will have no major impacts on historic properties and state recreational facilities.
From a zoning standpoint, the trickiest part of approval was the light poles. The town’s medium-density residential zoning only allows for 30 feet maximum height for accessory structures (unlike the city, Ithaca College and Cornell do not get their own unique zoning designation). Two poles will be 80 feet tall, one will be 100 feet tall, and the fourth pole will be 120 feet tall.
While the request to host games and events after sunset is logical enough, Ithaca College had to obtain height variances from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, and include features to limit impacts. That includes metal visor shielding to prevent light trespass into nearby residences, and regulatory limitations on hours of operation. With those physical and legal measures enshrined into the resolution, the variance was granted at their meeting Monday night. With that settled, the project was eligible for site plan approval with only one Planning Board meeting, which conveniently was scheduled for the day after the ZBA meeting.
Robb Champlin of Delhi’s The Clark Companies, which specializes in synthetic field design and installation, represented Ithaca College in the Planning Board meeting Tuesday night, explaining the structure of the artificial field, the drainage layout and the structure of the lighting rigs.
“As an Iowa transplant to Upstate New York, let me tell you that this is one climate where artificial turf comes in handy,” quipped Champlin.
Board Chair Greg Lundquist noted that health concerns had been raised about the materials used in artificial turf, an effort that has gained some momentum among the IC student body in the form of a petition against using the turf. Champlin explained that multiple studies by federal and state authorities had not found increased cancer rates or elevated chemical exposure levels. However, the fields do tend to increase heat stress on players because they retain heat more than natural grass fields, though Champlin noted that was more of an issue in warmer climates.
Meanwhile, board member Cindy Kaufman asked how maintenance is handled. Champlin explained it’s a brushing and infill rubber redistribution machine that rebalances out the field after impacts from months of footsteps and tackles.
Speakers during the Public Hearing portion had also raised concerns that production of synthetic turf would produce greenhouse gases counter to local and state environmental goals, and produce microplastics as it degrades. The board seemed more attuned to the environmental concern, as the degree of evidence was stronger than the claims that synthetic turf causes cancer.
However, with a 6-1 split vote with member Ariel Casper opposed, the board decided to grant approval to the project, with some refined language in the resolution to address lighting and environmental impacts. Ithaca College aims to have the new synthetic field ready to use in time for the Fall 2023 semester.