Image: Did the people who own this idyllic backyard install turf in order to avoid dealings with the San Jacinto River Authority, General Manager Jace Houston, and the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District? Believe it or not, that’s Conroe ISD Superintendent latest lame excuse why taxpayers should spend $5 million to turf in place of grass at Caney Creek High School.
Conroe, March 30 – According to Conroe Independent School District (CISD) Superintendent Curtis Null, citizens should blame at least $5 million of the wasteful spending in the $807 million bond package on Jace Houston. Seriously. That’s Jace Houston, General Manager of the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) and a former Board of Directors member of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD).
Before your head spins off of your neck, please allow The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper to explain Null’s bizarre connection with Jace Houston, SJRA, and LSCGCD.
The story begins on Thursday, March 28, 2019, at The Woodlands High School where Null spoke to an audience of 63 individuals, at least 54 of whom were CISD employees or their children. Null gave his standard advocacy speech for the $807 million bond package. It was boring and completely not factual.
One of Null’s arguments, however, was in response to criticism CISD has gotten over the plan to spend $23 million to install turf in place of grass at some of the athletic fields in CISD. As this newspaper reported in “The Grass Is NEVER Greener: Conroe ISD Plans To Gouge Taxpayers $23,146,160 For ‘Astro-Turf’ In Crazed May 4 Bond Fumble,” The Golden Hammer, February 11, 2019, turf in place of grass poses numerous problems:
- The Arlington Independent School District and its artificial turf vendor have mired each other in litigation for several years in Tarrant County District Courts over turf failures, student injuries from artificial turf, and from the chemicals inside of it as well as from the heat it accumulates.
- Conroe ISD already has a financial model for providing nice grassy fields on which children may play (sports or the French horn), which such model does not cost the beleaguered taxpayers. That financial model is “booster clubs.” Cindy Muth Gaskill, an education expert and a conservative activist, explained, “Did you know BOOSTER CLUBS, not taxpayers paid for grass, fertilizer, mowing at The Woodlands High School??? Not CISD. I saw this first hand. Taxpayers should not be paying for a one million dollar field that benefits 70 baseball players.” Gaskill further explained, “At The Woodlands High School in 2018, the baseball booster club paid to have the field laser-leveled, and new grass was put down (even though the grass was already in very good condition). The booster club also paid for a $15,000 Turf Halo that goes around home plate. I was fundraising chair, so I happen to have this information. The booster club also paid for stadium seats, approximately $45,000.”
- Artificial turf is actually significantly more costly than real grass for sports fields. Forbes magazine reported about several American studies on that subject in 2014, which concluded that artificial turf was almost twice as expensive over its projected 20-year-life-cycle as natural grass. The most comprehensive study comparing the expense of artificial turf with the expense of natural grass, of course, came from the Government of Western Australia’s Department of Local Government, Sport, and Cultural Industries. The Australian study contains a wealth of data comparing the expense of natural grass versus artificial turf. For every conceivable activity, natural grass is cheaper over 10, 20, 25, and 50 year use cycles. What the Australian study revealed is that net present value of artificial turf’s initial capital cost plus maintenance and other costs is approximately fifty percent (50%) higher than for every type of grass, even high-end Bermuda with a sand base.
- Artificial turf has components which are known carcinogens and poses other health threats to children.
Null unleashed a new argument in favor of spending money on turf when he spoke this past Thursday about Caney Creek High School where CISD intends to spend $5 million on artificial turf in place of natural grass. First, Null admitted “We’re unable to quantify water cost savings from turf, because the school district doesn’t have any financial breakdown of the amount of water used for sports fields.”
After admitting CISD has no idea how much it spends to water sports fields, Null added the zinger:
“We’ve been asked to lower water usage at Caney Creek High School from the well.”
Null provided no additional elaboration for this statement which he carefully made using the passive voice, so no one would know the identity of whom had asked CISD to lower water usage.
Therefore, this newspaper began some digging about whether anyone actually had requested that CISD use less water from the Caney Creek High School water well.
It turns out that Caney Creek High School doesn’t have a water well. Instead, the high school utilizes a water well from Moorhead Junior High School. A source inside of CISD’s Finance Department, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, confirmed that CISD utilizes water from its water well at Moorhead Junior High School to water the sports fields at Caney Creek High School. There has been, however, no specific request to reduce well pumpage for that well.
Samantha Reiter, the lady who is the Interim General Manager of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District who seems to be a very helpful and sincere person, provided information as well.
“Per our phone call this morning, Caney Creek High School receives water by way of the Conroe ISD (Moorhead Jr. High) permit. As requested, the Conroe ISD (Moorhead Jr. High) permit produced 14,699,800 gallons for the calendar year 2018.”
Here’s the critical part of Reiter’s comments: “The Conroe ISD (Moorehead Jr. High) permit is a large volume groundwater user and therefore joined a GRP [groundwater reduction program] in order to meet the District’s 2016 Regulatory Plan requirements. Because they are in a GRP, they can produce as much groundwater as they need and is authorized by the terms of the GRP, due to other participants taking alternative water supplies/over-converting. In the case of Conroe ISD (Moorehead Jr. High), the GRP they chose to join is the SJRA Joint GRP.”
CISD can use as much groundwater as they need!
Reiter did note, however, “One thing I thought of after we hung up, is that they (Conroe ISD) could have capacity limitations on their wells which could then limit their ability to produce. I do not know if this is the case for them.”
This newspaper’s source inside of the Finance Department confirmed that CISD’s well does not face a capacity limitation problem.
There are other important points about Null’s lie and his seeming blame placed on LSGCD and SJRA:
- The entire GRP program seems likely to fail. Senior Judge Lamar McCorkle ruled against LSGCD and found that LSGCD’s regulatory scheme for groundwater violated the Texas Water Code.
- A number of the large groundwater producers are still in litigation with the San Jacinto River Authority over the onerous contracts SJRA has foisted on them as part of LSGCD’s regulatory scheme to force utility companies, municipalities, and other large water users to purchase expensive surface water from SJRA. SJRA, of course, controlled the LSGCD Board of Directors until November 6, 2018, when citizens had the opportunity for the first time to elect the LSGCD Board rather than suffer an appointed Board.
Besides all of the foregoing problems involved with CISD’s desire to purchase turf for $5,000,000 to replace natural grass at Caney Creek High School, there’s another important question: since CISD’s estimate for the turf “conversion” is an even $5 million, why hasn’t CISD included the 43.75% extra costs built into every line item, according to Null, for architects, engineers, and lawyers? Once again, for the umpteenth time, CISD has pulled a number out of the thin air for which it intends to borrow and tax the citizens.