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School Committee Eyes Community Funds For $1.6 Athletic Facility

Nov 27, 2018 07:01PM ● By Lisa Redmond

The Dracut School Committee this week unveiled the draft plan for a proposed $1.6 million athletic facility with artificial turf at Dracut High School that would accommodate all sports, but would be built with community fundraising, not school funds.

Last year, the School Committee spent $9,500 to hire the architectural firm of Huntress Associates Inc., a leader in school athletic fields, to provide a conceptional master plan and costs associated with a state-of-the-art athletic field.

On Monday night, the committee got its first look at a conceptual design that includes a much larger field that would meet size regulations for any sport, new lights and repositioning some of the spectator bleachers.

“It’s not a football field,’’ School Superintendent Steven Stone told the committee. “It’s an athletic facility.’’

But Stone stressed the money to build this facility, which could be used by school and town sports teams, needs to come from community fundraising. While the School Department would retain control over the facility, Stone said no school funds would be used for it.

“This is not intended to be a School Department project,’’ Stone said. “This would be a community project,’’ with funds coming from town coffers and fundraising by various sports-related community groups.

Dracut has a history community support for these types of projects, Stone said. The renovation of the track six years ago and the new bathhouse both used Community Preservation Committee funds to offset some of the costs.

The idea for a new field has been kicked around for several years because existing dirt football field is in “bad shape,’’ Stone said.

The current football field doesn’t meet size regulations for lacrosse, field hockey and soccer. At times, the other town fields turn into seasonal mud pits, forcing Dracut’s sports teams to use fields in neighboring towns.

More than $50,000 is spent annually on the upkeep of the Beaudry Field. The equipment, such as the lights, are outdated. Stone said the School Department has the last eight replacement light bulbs available in the United States.

The poor condition of the playing fields puts Dracut players at a “competitive disadvantage,’’ Stone said. Some parents send their children to area private schools where the athletic facilities are better, he said.

Stone said he is aware of the health and safety concerns associated with synthetic fields, specifically a build up of heat on the field and use of rubber. Stone assured the committee that only the safest materials would be used for Dracut’s facility. He noted that Andover recently built a synthetic field using cork material that lessens the heat on the field.

The projected $1.6 million cost includes equipment needed to “groom’’ the artificial turf. Even so, the life expectancy for an artificial turf field is 10 years. Turf replacement costs about $300,000. Some of the cost could be offset by “pay to play’’ fees paid by community sports teams.

If the plan is ultimately approved and funded, Stone said it would take three months to construct the new athletic facility.

School Committee Chairman Joseph Wilkie said replacing the existing dirt football field has been discussed for years.

“At this point there is a tremendous amount of energy in the community for this,’’ he said. Funding the project means “getting creative’’ with Community Preservation money and fundraising by other community groups, he said.

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