Momentum picks up for NMHS turf fields

There seems to be a consensus among town leadership that installing artificial turf fields at New Milford High School makes sense.

None of the officials hearing a feasibility study Mondayat Sarah Noble Intermediate School seemed to doubt the need to make this change to NMHS' athletic complex.

Yet some Town Council members during a joint meeting of the council, the Board of Education and the Board of Finance questioned the wisdom of spending $3 million to $4 million for the project.

All heard results of a study about installing artificial turf on the high school's main field and one just to its north, as well as upgrading the nearly 15-year-old track with synthetic overlay.

Council members Paul Szymanski and Katy Francis said they harbor doubts upon hearing about the poor condition of the present facilities whether new sports fields and a new track would be properly maintained.

"We're hearing from the student athletes that the fields are not playable," Szymanski said. "I don't disagree that we need top of the line replacements but, as a taxpayer, I see a track and fields now that aren't properly being maintained."

"I know the school board never has enough money for all of the repairs that need to be done,," he added.

Szymanski said funding to maintain the artificial turf fields and replace them in eight to 10 years, at the end of their expected lifespan was a question.

"Will you guarantee a lock box where money will be set aside to pay for this," Councilman Tom Esposito asked the school board. "I want assurances. I want a legally binding agreement regardless of who's on the board."

The school district's facilities director, John Calhoun, said the issue is "over usage," not lack of maintenance.

"There's been too much usage on the fields for too long," Calhoun said. "There's not enough time for the grass turf to grow back. You could spend $100,000 to redo each field every year and it wouldn't be enough."

Richard Webb, with the SMRT architectural firm that conducted the feasibility study, agreed about the poor condition of NMHS' fields.

"Natural grass fields have a threshold for use even with good maintenance," Webb said. "These fields see tremendous use and the heavy rains in the late spring and early fall exacerbate the damage."

Webb noted the track has cracks across the surface and along the edges and should have been replaced, based on its age, about eight years ago.

Student athletes spoke during the meeting's public participation session how the poor condition of the present fields hinders their practices and, possibly, limits their performances when away competition is conducted on artificial turf.

"When we go to play a game at another school," said Julia Trocchio, a Green Wave girls' soccer player, "our coach says to us `Remember girls, the ball moves a lot faster on artificial turf. I know you're not use to this.' "

Marisa McLaughlin played field hockey for the Green Wave and also plays lacrosse.

"Without a turf field, New Milford is behind other towns," she said. "We are only one of three towns in the (South-West) Conference that does not have (artificial) turf fields."

Councilman Frank Wargo and school board member John Spatola believe money should be used from the Waste Management settlement fund to pay for the installation, maintenance and eventual replacement of the facilities.

The fund had originally been set up for open-space and land preservation reasons, projects for the betterment of the community.

"I helped draft what this money can be used for," Spatola said. "I served on the Waste Management settlement committee and this is good use."

Spatola recommends taking out bond anticipation notes at 1 percent interest and paying them off by using money from the Waste Management fund.

The Town Council moved the decision about the fields and track to its next regular meeting Jan. 26.; 203-731-3352