School officials explore revisiting turf field plan

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BY ANDREAS YILMA REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

BEACON FALLS — School officials are exploring options with the possibility of presenting a new plan for a turf field after the all-purpose turf field was shot down in a districtwide referendum.

Region 16 school district voters in Beacon Falls and Prospect on May 2 approved a $43 million school budget for the 2023-24 school year. However, voters rejected installing an all-purpose turf field for Woodland Regional High School by a vote 544 in favor and 672 against the turf field.

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 a 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.

School officials have had ongoing conversations with Kaestle Boos Associates, a New Britain-based architectural firm that has previously completed a feasibility study to determine that a soccer field can fit at the existing football field near the stands and lights. KBA officials are now drawing up bid documents for the scope of work to go out to bid with four alternate options for the field.

Yamin said the options include minor renovations to the grass field after drainage is repaired and fixing areas of water retentions and regarding of lower levels that would cost a football season. Another option is a full-scale renovation that would have recrowning, with an entire new field made out of sod and would last two seasons. A synthetic turf field is still another alternate option.

“That way if we go out to bid, we go out to bid for the track, the drainage and all four alternates so then the board could take all four together and look at it and reassess where we are,” Yamin said. “That way we’re not doing this over and over again.”

Facilities Director Mark Parrino is meeting with landscaping contractors who have experience with athletic fields for a maintenance proposal scope of work to improve the quality of natural fields.

In addition, school officials have reached out to Zone Nation Sports of Seymour to use its indoor facility when necessary if there isn’t a football field during rain or if the field is unusable due to any possible construction, Yamin said.

“The only reason why the track wasn’t done is because the community came to us and wanted us to stop the process and consider a turf field,” Yamin said. “Every time you go out to a referendum, it takes 60 days to go out so you can’t change your referendum once it’s already out there so things about money, how much was available or not available, capital non-reoccurring, it’s something we always have. It’s the only account the board of ed can retain, year after year.”

Yamin said that as school officials look at their capital non-reoccurring costs — and they go out to bid — if they come back in August and they can’t have things done due to timelines, the school district may revisit a turf.

“We may revisit removing the whole field, we may revisit just going with what the original project was but we’ll have solid numbers at that point and we’ll have the design done and went out to bid so we don’t have to hold the process up again,” Yamin said.

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.

Some other residents who opposed a turf field felt it wasn;t fiscally correct, it might have an impact on storm water runoff and there might be potential health risks with the synthetic field.

John Sizer, who spoke on behalf of the Woodland Regional High School soccer teams, said it was a missed opportunity not to upgrade to the turf field as playing at home should be an advantage but it rarely is.