PROSPECT — The Region 16 Board of Education will look to hold a double referendum at the beginning of next month on the 2023-24 proposed school budget and a new turf field at Woodland Regional High School.

Luke McCoy, principal landscape architect for Kaestle Boos Associates, speaks at a Region 16 public hearing at Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls on March 29.

School district officials, representing Beacon Falls and Prospect, presented a feasibility study on a new turf field at a hearing on March 29 at Long River Middle School.

The school board has since voted to hold a revised referendum on May 2 from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. at the firehouse in Prospect and Laurel Ledge Elementary School in Beacon Falls so district residents can vote on a turf field.

District voters last year approved about $2.3 million for a three-phase capital improvement project that includes installation of a new track around the football field, repairing drainage on the existing field and renovating the weight room and gymnasium floor. Since that approval, there has been a public outcry from the sports community, mainly the football community, for a new all-purpose turf field.

The school board is recommending an additional amount of up to $2 million for a total of up to $4.3 million.

Kaestle Boos Associates, a New Britain-based architectural firm, recently completed a feasibility study to measure the fields, identify if a soccer field can fit within its borders and give a rough estimate of the total cost of the project.

It was determined that a soccer field would be able to fit.

School Superintendent Michael Yamin said the school district’s debt service is manageable and won’t have a great impact on the general budget, but the payback of debt would increase for three years.

“So in four years it doesn’t even affect our budget because the interest has decreased on our principal, the debt has gone down. So at the end of the day, we have the ability to put a turf field in where the existing football field is,” Yamin said. “We think that’s the best place for it. I think the board has taken the right approach personally and professionally. They listened to the community.”

Nearly a dozen members of the community, including some Woodland coaches and players, spoke at the hearing.

Caitlin Hernon, the girls high school soccer coach for eight years, said every year the grass field has been getting into worse shape.

“We’ve had issues . . . where teams have come to the field and they’ve said that they didn’t feel the field was playable and it becomes a really big headache for us, for the administration,” Hernon said.

Kent Kirkland, who lives on Rimmon Hill Road close to the high school, said the $2 million can be better spent by hiring a full-time groundskeeper to maintain the field.

Prospect resident Tim Bernegger said he was opposed to spending the money. As a special education teacher, he has watched funding diverted to athletics instead of going to academics.

“By spending this money on athletic fields when there are other options to improve these fields that are drastically less expensive, we are contributing directly to what is broken in our educational system today,” Bernegger said.

Anne Cook, who is the parent of two student athletes who have played on the grass field, said her son tore his ACL and meniscus while playing football on the field.

“Our Naugatuck game was a disgrace. It was an absolute embarrassment. The Naugatuck team was sliding on our field,” Cook said. “We are the mockery of the NVL. It is a joke to play at Woodland’s football field. It is literally a running joke to play on our football field.”

Dino Verrelli, a school district parent, said he’s not against a turf field but asked the board to pause on the decision due to some unanswered questions about the life of the turf field and the possible harm from PFAS or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances in the turf field. “PFAS has been linked to testicular cancer, kidney cancer, at high levels. I’m not saying that a turf field will cause these diseases but we want to try to limit our exposure these things just like smoking and alcohol cause certain diseases,”

Kaestle Boos Associates principal landscape architect Luke McCoy said at the hearing that in relation to injuries and infections with turf fields, synthetic turf fields cannot cause methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or staph infections. Student athletes were having those infections because they failed to shower after practice or games, officials have said.

If approved by the school board, the project still needs approval by the Beacon Falls Planning and Zoning Commission and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for a storm water management discharge permit.

School officials will borrow up to the $4.3 million and will only borrow what they need and can’t borrow the funds until all the bids are in, said Yamin. Officials are hopeful that they only spend around $3.4 million.