- Police in East Hampton have no suspects identified in the scorched branding of a large dollar sign to the East Hampton High School football field which occurred somewhere between Saturday night and Sunday morning, July 4 to July 5. Vandals scorched a 60 x 20 foot dollar sign into the artificial turf. The defacement came with a typed five-page letter left in an envelope at the scene that, according to police, cited the town's budget woes.
The vandalism was discovered Sunday morning by David Fioriello, the district's middle school football coach
, who had been riding his bike in the area. At 9:56 a.m., Fioriello reported to police that a vandal had scorched a sizable dollar sign onto the field, melting the plastic glass and sand-rubber infill. East Hampton Detective Sergeant Chris Anderson confirmed that the damage was done in the early morning hours under the cover of darkness.
The damage to the artificial turf field was called "extensive," requiring a replacement of the turf rather than cosmetic work being done.
Det. Anderson said the investigation is ongoing and as yet no suspects have been identified. Police are also uncertain of the incendiary substance used to vandalize the field. The accompanying letter, although unavailable for release, is takes issue with the school board's business decisions according to Anderson who said "the author was expressing their concerns and dissenting opinions as to how the school board conducts business."
According to East Hampton Athletic Director Joe Vasile-Cozzo, strips of the synthetic turf are sewn together to form the field. Vasile-Cozzo, who was notified of the damage shortly after Fioriello's discovery, suspected that the district would be able to replace the damaged portion rather than replace the field in its entirety and that insurance is working out the coverage details. Amityville-based LandTek Group, which installed the field, will be in within days to assess the damage.
Either way, Vasile-Cozzo called the damage "extensive" and said "in the long run, it's going to cost people more money. I have no idea why someone would do that."
In the last decade, FieldTurf facilities have been installed all over the country, including many on Long Island, at a rapid rate in order to maximize field availability while minimizing maintenance costs. In addition to East Hampton, an artificial turf field opened in Southampton in October 2007. Westhampton school district officials had hoped to replace their grass field with artificial turf but the notion was temporarily tabled due to the sluggish economy.
Use of synthetic fields are more diverse, as in East Hampton where the six varsity teams – football, boys soccer, girls soccer, field hockey, boys lacrosse and girls lacrosse – all use the field throughout the school year, while both the boys and girls outdoor track teams utilize the track encircling it. "Even though there was a cost to it when it was first installed, we never have a rainout, we never have a field that's not playable," Vasile-Cozzo said. "It's very versatile."
The football team practiced under a setting sun on Wednesday while the vandal operated under the cover of darkness this past weekend.
Its versatility did come with a price tag – a hefty $1.1 million in the case of East Hampton, a community whose town budget officer was charged with re-allocating $8 million from a community preservation fund to cover budget shortfalls just three weeks ago. Recently, the East Hampton School District Board of Education passed a $62.4 million budget that necessitated a 4.74 percent town tax hike.
Vasile-Cozzo voiced his concern about the field not being playable for the fall and while the soccer and field hockey teams could play on the grass field adjacent to the school, he could not speculate at this time where the school's football teams would play their games.