Food and Turf Fields Recommendations and Next Steps

I wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge two of our outstanding advisory groups that recently submitted recommendations to me.

First, special thanks to our Food Services Advisory Group, which was comprised of a high school student, parents, staff and community representatives from Farm-to-School and the Whatcom Community Foundation. This group spent time listening to many parent and student voices through focus groups, some members visited nationally recognized food services programs in Berkeley, Oakland and Boulder public schools, and the groups’ draft vision received community feedback through a survey late last year. If you’d like to learn more, you can view the group’s report and recommendation to me here, which includes this vision for our food services program:

We encourage a lifetime of healthy eating by serving students nourishing, delicious, whole foods in a welcoming environment.

I’m excited to move forward on this recommendation and appreciate the passion of this group. The group’s recommendation also addressed some other issues related to the food services program and integration with other aspects of school life. I thank them for these recommendations, which I will consider as we move forward with changes to the program. Over the next few years, the program will be undergoing many changes and I ask for your patience as we prepare for our central kitchen opening, which will make more scratch cooking possible. You’ll begin to notice some adjustments in our food services program as early this spring and there will be many other changes behind-the-scenes. And on a related note, our Wellness Policy Advisory Group started meeting last week.

Second, I’m very appreciative for our High School Turf Fields Advisory Group, which also recently submitted a recommendation to me.  Part of the committee’s process was to gather feedback during a public meeting and through surveys before finalizing their recommendation. The committee shared their extensive research regarding the type of turf and infill material for the new synthetic fields. During the public input process, there was excitement for the project, as well as some health concerns expressed related to the national conversations about crumb rubber. The group is recommending crumb rubber, also known as Styrene Butadiene Rubber or SBR, which is used on all synthetic turf fields in Whatcom County (Civic Field, Joe Martin Stadium, WWU, WCC, Lummi Nation School, Bellingham Sportsplex) and in more than 300 fields in our state. They made this recommendation based on a number of factors including the studies they reviewed and the fact that those studies have not indicated a health risk.

I shared this recommendation publicly for feedback again on March 30 and did not receive additional input. In planning for the bond, we received a lot of feedback from staff, students, athletic programs, marching band, and community groups who felt we needed to replace our often very wet and soggy (therefore unusable) grass fields with synthetic turf. This advisory group was tasked with providing input and recommendations for design elements (e.g. field markings, lighting, fencing, seating, etc.) associated with synthetic turf field installations at Bellingham and Squalicum high schools. Given that our children are already playing on and using local crumb rubber fields, as well as medical expert opinion and research studies that have not found a health risk, we are ready to move forward on this project. We plan to begin by installing the field at Squalicum High School this summer and fall, followed by the field at Bellingham High School in 2017 and then Sehome as part of our new high school project there.

We have a number of other active committees and groups hard at work. You can follow what they’re up to here.

I’m so appreciative for all the students, parents, neighbors and staff who are giving their time in this way to help us continue to deliver upon The Bellingham Promise.

Thank you,

Greg Baker