WESTERLY — The town needs additional athletic fields, a consultant hired to study the condition and use of the town’s athletic fields and recreation facilities told a joint meeting of the Town Council and School Committee Monday.
Eric Roise of BSC Group of Glastonbury reviewed the three-volume report his company produced, saying it should be used “to start the conversation.”
The report provides statistics on the use of fields and playgrounds and their condition and makes recommendations for upgrades and ways to address over use.
The company found that the Quad field at Westerly High School is used 306 times per year more than it should be and that a multipurpose field at Gingerella Sports Complex is used 213 times per year year more than it should be.
The company analyzed fields and facilities at Bradford Preserve, Cimalore Field, Craig Field, Gingerella Sports Complex, the Westerly Youth Football Field, Rotary Park, and the fields at Westerly Middle School and Westerly High School.
While an initial analysis of the amount of money spent to maintain the town’s facilities and fields appeared to be in an acceptable range, Roise said a closer look revealed the $300,000 spent in 2016 was excessive when consideration was given to other one-time attempts to correct problems at Westerly High School’s Augeri Field and fields at the Gingerella complex.
Gina Fuller, a School Committee member, cautioned that the spending in 2016 might be misleading because more was spent that year than in previous years.
“You are expending significantly more than you should on a yearly basis to maintain the fields and that is mostly due to wear on the fields. You can use natural turf fields about 250 times a year and after that you’re chasing your tail trying to maintain them on a municipal maintenance budget,” Roise said.
The town needs about four new fields. Roise said some of the shortage could be made up through renovations to the Gingerella Complex or through a combination of new fields and conversion of one or more fields to synthetic turf.
An online survey conducted by the firm and other input the company received indicates the need for an education campaign to review the pros and cons of synthetic turf and those of natural turf, Roise said.
In 2014, voters rejected a proposal to spend $975,000 to install synthetic turf at Augeri Field at Westerly High School.
The synthetic turf issue was on the minds of councilors and School Committee members Monday. School Committee member Patricia Panciera called for the installation of synthetic turf at Augeri Field, saying a number of injuries have occurred on the field and that at other times the field has been deemed unusable.
“There are many reasons why Augeri Field should be converted to synthetic turf and I don’t understand the push-back that we get from the community. It seems in the long run it would be financially more viable,” Panciera said
Ed Haik, Recreation Board chairman, said one of the board’s next steps will be to arrange a public forum with experts in attendance to discuss both synthetic and natural turf.
Councilor Mario Celico agreed that officials need more information on the two options and said a lack of adequate information caused officials to disagree on whether to support the synthetic turf option in 2014.