Despite being rejected in two of three towns, voters in Regional School District 19 approved a new track and other outdoor athletic facilities at E.O. Smith High School at Tuesday’s referendum [Sept. 28].
Residents in both Ashford and Willington rejected the $2.17 million project with a combined vote of 506 “yes” votes and 752 “no” votes.
Mansfield voters approved the plan with 947 “yes” votes and 312 “no” votes, a wide-enough margin to push the total “yes” votes ahead.
The total tally for all three towns in the district was 1,453 in favor and 1,064 against.
The voter turnout in Mansfield was 12.1 percent, while in Ashford it was 16.1 percent and in Willington it was 23.5 percent.
District 19 Board of Education Chair Francis Archambault said he was “very pleased” the project passed and reiterated previous statements about the need for new facilities at E.O. Smith High School, which is located in Mansfield.
The project will include a new track, to replace one that has not been in use for years due to safety concerns, according to school officials.
Superintendent Bruce Silva has said the school has been forced to use other facilities for its track teams, including those at Tolland High School, Windham Middle School and Eastern Connecticut State University.
The project will also include a new synthetic-turf field to replace the existing natural grass field, which school officials have said is also in poor shape.
Project architect Vincent McDermott said the field does not have proper irrigation and added, even with sufficient water and $20,000 in maintenance, a natural grass field can support 15 hours of usage per week.
Silva said the new synthetic surface will allow for constant use by all physical education classes, as well as athletic teams such as football and soccer.
To accommodate a full-size high school soccer field, the new track will be a modified 400-meter track.
The school will also resurface outdoor tennis and basketball courts as part of the project.
Silva said he expects the new facilities to be ready for use by fall 2011.
The building committee will meet in the next few weeks. Silva said the committee will need to select a consultant to design the project before sending it out to bid.
Construction could begin as early as March, which might force the tennis teams to find a new location, and the expected timeline calls for four months of construction, he also said.
The project has been debated, in its most recent form, for several months.
At a public hearing in August, Willington Selectman John Blessington and Board of Finance member Peter Latincsics both said they think it is too expensive given the current economic conditions in the country.
Latincsics could not be reached for comment this morning, but Blessington said he was disappointed in the result, especially since Ashford and Willington were both “pretty solidly against it.”
“We feel that Mansfield is kind of the bully in all of this,” he said. Mansfield voters don’t consider Willington and Ashford residents’ ability to pay taxes for such initiatives, he said.
He also said the school board would have had much more support if it simply proposed to reconstruct the track – which likely would have cost between $500,000 and $750,000.
Blessington said many residents saw the total plan as “gold plated.”
Archambault said he can understand why some people wouldn’t have supported the project as presented at Tuesday’s referendum, but also noted that the project did get sufficient “yes” votes in all three towns, and not just Mansfield, or it wouldn’t have passed.
He also said the school board does not intend to bring any other projects to voters in the near future.
This was the school board’s second try at such a project. Voters rejected a $3.95 million plan in February 2009. The project approved Tuesday was scaled back from that plan and did not include work to the Farrell Fields Complex, bleachers or lights, although it does include work that will make it possible to install lights in the future.
Posted Sept. 29, 2010