, Newburyport, MA

November 23, 2012

Pentucket board considers 3 plans for athletic fields

By Jennifer Solis

---- — WEST NEWBURY — The Pentucket School Committee is considering three possible ways to reconfigure athletic fields to best meet programming needs at the secondary school campus.

At a meeting on Tuesday, the committee briefly reviewed a feasibility study it paid Gale Associates of Weymouth $19,960 to conduct on the site in September. The report found that the current condition and inventory of athletic fields doesn’t support the needs and demands of the high school’s athletic program.

The three alternative schematic designs proposed “will not only improve the condition of the facilities, but are capable of supporting more demand with the use of synthetic turf and athletic lighting,” the report states.

The feasibility study considered more than just upgrades to the tennis courts and the track and field behind the middle school, which voters at annual town meetings last April authorized funding $600,000 to complete.

It also looked at improvements to the baseball diamond, football field, scoreboard, bleachers and press box behind the high school; the softball field and adjacent field in front of the high school; and the multi-purpose field located next to the track behind the middle school.

A $100,000 project for safety upgrades to the theater and music facilities at the high school — also approved at the same time by voters at the annual meetings last spring — is going forward independent of the athletic field project. Bids for that job were opened on Friday, said Pentucket business manager Michael Bergeron.

Gale Associates recommends Alternative No. 3 as the best plan for addressing the athletic field improvements. With an estimated price tag of $3,699,821, it is the most costly option. Alternative No. 1 would cost an estimated $3,578,226; Alternative No. 2 came in at approximately $2,898,238.

The quotes include 10 percent for contingencies and the cost to acquire a small, privately owned property located along Main Street adjacent to the high school.

But the consultants say they are recommending the third option because it is the only one that relocates the track and field facility from the middle school to land in front of the high school where it “will be a focus point for everyone entering the campus and provide a sense of pride for all students.” Overall field space is also increased under this plan.

The Pentucket board stressed that it would not be going back to the district towns for any additional funding for this project beyond what was already approved at town meeting. Instead, it will rely on fundraising and grants to cover the higher price tag for whichever reconfiguration is eventually selected.

After hearing from the Tri-town Regional Financial Advisory Committee recently, Pentucket Chairman Brian Page told his colleagues on Tuesday that he was hopeful the public works departments in the district towns would be willing to rip out the track and do some regrading work as a cost-saving measure for the project.

Under the third option, the existing softball field and tennis courts would be demolished and relocated. It calls for regrading the area between the main entrance roadway and the tree line on the opposite side of the tennis courts and installing a new “6 lane on the oval/8 lane on the straightway” track and field with synthetic turf in this area. The plan includes a 1,200-person grandstand with press box at the midpoint of the field and a four-pole athletic lighting system.

Behind the high school, the bleacher system and press box would be demolished to allow for expansion of the existing field to a width of 210 feet — the ideal size for high school level soccer and women’s lacrosse.

Over at the middle school, the track would be converted to loam and seed to accommodate a full-sized multipurpose field as well as three smaller fields in the transverse direction. Six tennis courts and a softball field would be erected nearby and an amenities building would provide restrooms, concessions and storage. The plan includes a 10-foot wide access road to the fields and the Merrimack River.

The project will likely require obtaining necessary permitting to address wetlands and other conservation issues, the report states.

The goal is to have a final master plan in the place by January. The board plans to meet with representatives from Gale Associates at their Dec. 18 business meeting.

Held on the third Tuesday of each month, the school board’s monthly business meeting now begins a half hour earlier, at 6:30 p.m., in modular classroom #3 at the high school. To access an agenda for the meeting, visit and click on the School Committee link.