, Newburyport, MA

December 24, 2012

Fields upgrade proves costly

Pentucket to review three proposals for outdoor facilities

By Jennifer Solis

---- — WEST NEWBURY — A new Pentucket school board subcommittee has been charged with exploring three proposed upgrades to the secondary school’s athletic fields and outdoor facilities.

The group, which will include three School Committee members and three representatives from the district towns, is tasked with investigating schematic designs that were presented to the board last week by Gale Associates, Inc. of Weymouth. The group will also consider possible funding alternatives.

Voters at Town Meeting last spring earmarked $700,000 for the project, but initial estimates — ranging from $2.5 million to $3.32 million — have well exceeded that amount. School board members said they are committed to securing grants and private donations to cover the difference.

West Newbury’s Chris Wile cautioned his colleagues about “going too far” in fundraising before the committee decides in which direction the project will ultimately go.

“This is a big push, I’m not sure we’re going to get there,” said Wile, adding he expects some voters will be “shocked” to learn how much more money is needed for the project.

Wile said he was concerned that if only a portion of the additional funds were raised through donations, then the “default” position could mean going back to the district’s towns for the remainder of the cost.

Chairman Brian Page said the member towns have been assured that the district will not be asking taxpayers for any additional money for the project.

Wile also said the towns have been notified the current track and tennis courts were deemed unrepairable.

Business manager Mike Bergeron suggested that perhaps the project could be scaled back, with any unfunded portions ultimately added to a larger high school renovation project down the road that would tap state building funds.

Representatives from Gale Associates have offered three alternative schematic solutions. The scope of their objective was to develop a new track facility, reconstructed tennis courts, bleachers and more durable fields with adequate lighting. All base price estimates provided by Gale do not include funding for the proposed bleacher systems, the amenities building or the athletic lighting.

The consultants’ recommendation calls for reconstructing and reorienting the tennis courts, constructing new softball fields with amenities and refurbishing the natural turf in the front of the high school. The existing bleachers and press box in the back would be removed and the multi-sports field would be expanded.

At the middle school, there would be a new track and field, 1,200-seat grandstand, amenities building with restrooms and expanded multi-purpose field. Synthetic turf and athletic lighting would be installed.

This plan offers a durable, all-weather field; code-compliant seating and the correct orientation for the tennis courts. However, with a base price estimate of $2.89 million, the consultants said it is not the least-expensive option and would require some moderate permitting.

The cheapest alternative, at $2.55 million minimally, essentially just improves on the existing structures, Gale consultant Sean Boyd said. It involves reconstructing the tennis courts, adding a new softball field with amenities, creating code-compliant, 800-seat bleachers; installing athletic lighting and refurbishing the existing turf.

A new track and field and expanded practice fields would be installed at the middle school.

While the plan allows for code-compliant seating and would require only minimal permitting, it offers limited field durability and space for growth and does not address the orientation of the existing tennis courts, which officials have said is less than ideal from a playing perspective

The third, and most expensive, alternative — with a base price of $3.32 million — creates a track and field with a 1,200-seat grandstand in the front of the high school and six new tennis courts at the middle school, along with the other improvements in alternative 2. However, the plan is contingent on the purchase of a small house located adjacent to the front of the high school. The property was for sale when the assessment process began, but is no longer available. The plan would also require extensive permitting.

School board member Joe D’Amore of Groveland said whatever direction the committee eventually decides to take, it must keep in mind that the district’s athletic facilities “are totally expired” and “something needs to be done.”