BY ANDREAS YILMA
Board of Education voted at its Feb. 8 meeting to pursue the installation of a turf field at the high school and to hold a referendum in Beacon Falls and Prospect — the district’s two member towns — on whether to support the project.
Region 16 school board Chairman Robert A. Hiscox said the board’s vote doesn’t guarantee a turf field; that it’ll ultimately be up to voters in the district.
Kaestle Boos Associates, an architecture firm based in New Britain, has been meeting with school officials weekly. The feasibility study will cost about $30,000. The firm will measure the fields, identify if a soccer field can fit and give a rough estimate of the cost of installing turf. School officials hope to have the feasibility study completed by the board’s next meeting on March 8, Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said.
Hiscox said a soccer field is wider than a football field and the feasibility study will show whether the proposed soccer field can fit within the track that circles the field, since the track can’t be pushed out any further due to existing bleachers and fencing.
The feasibility study will also show how the football and soccer fields may both have turf if the soccer field can’t fit within the track, Hiscox said.
“The community will decide if we go forward or not with it,” Yamin said. “What we don’t do is the drainage because that will be fixed by putting in the turf field. The turf field will go first, the track will go second.”
District voters last year approved a roughly $2.3 million three-phase capital improvement project that includes the installation of a new track around the football field, repairing the 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 high school football community — for a new all-purpose turf field.
Hiscox said not only would the football and soccer teams use the proposed field but the baseball, softball and cheerleading teams could use it for practice.
The school board previously came up with a survey and gave members of the regional school district roughly two weeks to decide if they would support a turf field. Of the 750 responses, about 590 people, or 79%, said they would support converting to turf.
“I have to give the board members credit,” Yamin said. “They checked their ego at the door. They listened to the community.”
Region 16 Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Priscilla Cretella said school officials are disappointed they can’t start the capital improvement project this spring and all they want to do this time is get it right.
“We want the students to enjoy the field, regardless of what it ends up being but without the support of the two towns, it’s never going to make it,” Cretella said. “So we need the support of both towns. Whatever the feasibility study tells us, which you will all get immediately, this is very, very important. Sports and the arts are very important.”
Yamin said if the district vote doesn’t pass, the original referendum is still in place.
“I think it’s the right decision going to the towns to vote for it,” Yamin said. “I hope it passes. I think it’s a good thing for the community. Unfortunately it’s hard for people to understand that we have a process we have to go through.”
Yamin commended people for coming forward so the board could hear their concerns. He said the school community is in a good place moving in a direction where the vote is in their hands.
“The next steps of the feasibility study and the legalities and developing the referendum language is a process that involves a heck of a lot more than just, ‘We want a turf field,’” Hiscox said at the meeting. “Give us time to go through the process and the public will have the final say.”