Neighbors of Casey Middle School are upset that the school's soccer field now is off-limits, as is a hill long used for sledding.

The soccer field was upgraded to artificial turf when the school was rebuilt. Artificial turf was chosen because it's a "greener" option and easier to maintain, Boulder Valley School District officials said. But they limit public access to the district's synthetic fields, so they locked the gate that provides access to Casey's fenced-in soccer field.

"That is public space," said Mary Young, who lives near the school and is encouraging neighbors to protest at the next school board meeting. "It belongs to the people."

District officials said it's general practice not to allow access to synthetic turf fields, except by renting the fields through the Community Schools program. Casey -- which reopened with a new building in the fall -- is the first district middle school with a synthetic field. The rest are at high schools.

"There's a concern about vandalism and damage," said district spokeswoman Susan Cousins. "The district needs to protect its investment."

She also said the sledding hill is only closed temporarily, to give more time for grass to get established. The district recently reseeded the area and added erosion-control material after an earlier attempt to get grass established there wasn't successful.


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"They'll have to revisit the closure next year and see how well the grass is established," she said.

The $33 million rebuild of the central Boulder school, at 1301 High St., was part of a $296.8 million bond issue approved by Boulder Valley voters in 2006. The Boulder City Council also gave the district $1.8 million, which comes from an education excise tax levied on residential development, for green upgrades to the design plan.

Jennifer Corkern, a Casey neighbor who has two young children, said neighborhood kids have used the field for years to play games, fly kites or just run. She said someone recently called the police to report some boys who had scaled the fence and were playing Frisbee in the field -- sending a message that "playing outside can get you in trouble."

She said it's irresponsible for a public institution to take away a communal space used by children for outdoor recreation. The sledding hill also is one of the most popular in the city, she said, and the neighborhood was promised it would remain open during community meetings about the construction.

"It's so frustrating," she said. "The field and the sledding hill are very important to the community."