School budget yes; turf no

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BY ANDREAS YILMA

REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

REGION 16 — Region school district voters approved a $43 million school budget for the 2023-24 school year but rejected a proposed all-purpose turf field for Woodland Regional High School.

District residents at a May 2 referendum approved the budget 778-436 and refected the turf field with 544 in favor and 672 against.

Region 16 Board of Education Chairman Robert A. Hiscox said school officials were happy the budget was approved.

“It was a realistic budget and provides for all the students of the district,” Hiscox said. “Its’ a well balanced budget and I’m pleased the voters recognized that.”

Residents rejected a request to appropriate an additional $2 million to modify the original capital improvement scope of work previously approved in June 2022 from $2.3 million to $4.3 million to replace the football field with multipurpose artificial turf field and the repair or replacement of adjacent structures.

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 grass 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.

High school sport coaches, mainly the football and soccer coaches, as well as numerous student athletes and student athlete parents testified in several board of education meetings how the grass field has caused numerous injuries for athletes and the need for a turf field. However there have been some other residents who weren’t in favor of a turf field with a few reasons including it isn’t fiscally correct, possible impacts with storm water runoff and potential health risks with the synthetic field.

Hiscox said he thought the referendum for the turf field was going to pass as the school board worked hard to put together the proposal and feasibility study for the sports field at the request of the public.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said it’s disappointing the referendum for the turf field didn’t pass but the school board and himself will continue to work toward upgrading the sports fields and high school over the course of the next 24 months.

“I’m confident that the facilities committee and the (Board of Education) will look at options to improve the quality of those fields,” Yamin said.

A reallocation of funds in the school budget isn’t needed for the current grass field but repairs will need to be performed. Grass fields in New England get weathered quite a bit, Yamin said.

“We know you have to maintain it. It’s tough to maintain it in New England,” Hiscox said. “We will have a lengthy discussion to upgrade it as bets we can.”

Hiscox said he was a little disappointed in the turnout overall as the vote was way down in Prospect where that town typically averages 900 voters for a referendum. This was the first referendum he experienced where more people voted in Beacon Falls than Prospect.

“I really wish that more people participated in the process,” Hiscox said. “That is what the opportunity of referendum was all about.”

Hiscox said drainage work is still going to be done on the field which was approved in the previous referendum.

“I’m excited and grateful that the community is supporting us and we’ll do our best to perform at the highest level for students, staff and the community,” Yamin said.

School officials will have to go back to the drawing board and have discussion at the next school board meeting to upgrade both fields, Hiscox said.