NEW PALESTINE — Southern Hancock schools officials have announced plans to install an artificial turf field, the third Hancock County district to make the move.

If plans come to fruition, the Dragons would join Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon school districts in upgrading facilities to artificial turf.

In November, Greenfield-Central’s school board approved the construction of an about $820,000 artificial turf at the district’s high school — a project that was on the table for nearly two and a half years as officials debated funding options. Mt. Vernon OK’d similar plans in February, estimating the project at $609,000. Both artificial turfs have since been completed.

New Palestine High School athletics director Al Cooper presented plans to the school board this month. The field’s current issues include drainage problems and an uneven playing surface with several low-lying areas, officials said. Board members gave him the OK to further research project details and begin a fundraising campaign to support the estimated $700,000 cost of installing turf.

Once more detailed plans and cost estimates are available, Cooper will bring the project back to the board for further discussion, he said.

District officials have money in several funds — capital projects, rainy day and general — they use to repair and maintain the current field. That funding could be used to pay for the artificial turf should the plan move forward.

Depending on funding, they’d also like to create a sports complex with upgraded concession and restroom areas — possibly locker rooms — to be used by Dragon teams and the school’s band.

“We’ve got a vision, and we want it to be a first-class place that represents our community, our students and what we’re about,” Cooper said.

District officials hope to raise at least $150,000 through fundraising efforts, donations and sponsorship, but they will rely on district funding for the majority of the installation cost, they said.

Plans were already in the works to install new bleachers to the football stadium this summer, assistant superintendent Bob Yoder said.

Grass football fields provide only about 30 days of use a year, while an artificial turf field would allow teams to use it for about 170 days a year, school officials said.

It also opens use of the field to other programs, including the marching band. Instead of practicing on blacktop, the band could use the field, officials said. The band program would also be able to host invitationals, too, officials said.

Head football coach Kyle Ralph hopes the plans come to fruition. Turf would enhance players’ experience and replace the old, beat-up grass field, he said.

The school recently celebrated 50 years of playing football on the field and maintenance has become costly.

“Our field has definitely taken some wear and tear the last few years having played so many games on it,” Ralph said in an email to the Daily Reporter. “Those constant maintenance issues don’t pop-up with a turf field and should in the long run be a better investment.”

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.