Team's payments fall short of covering Fitch school field improvements

Groton - The Board of Education and the town are holding a $140,000 bag - the amount owed to contractors who upgraded the baseball field at Fitch High School so the Mystic Schooners collegiate baseball team could call Groton home.

If the team fails to pay the bills, it could be found in default of its agreement with the town, Superintendent of Schools Paul Kadri said Thursday.

But the contractors' bills still have to be paid. Kadri wants to use school district funds to close the gap. The town agreed to the deal with the Schooners on the condition that the upgrades would be made "at no cost to the town."

The Schooners, who play for in the New England Collegiate Baseball League - sailed into Groton on the wave of a $500,000 anonymous donation.

The money was to pay to upgrade Fitch High School's playing field dugouts and to build a press box and bleachers to meet the league's facilities requirements. The team was expected to pay the $80,000 cost to install lights.

The improvements would benefit the high school for years to come.

When the bidding was done last fall, the work came in at $560,000. The cost later escalated to $640,000 when $80,000 for lighting was included.

"The team told me they could get the remaining funds as a loan from the benefactor," Kadri said.

Kevin P. Kelleher, the team's president and general manager, did not return a phone call Thursday.

Kadri said if he couldn't start the work until all of the money was in the bank, the field couldn't get done on time, and the whole deal could have gone down the drain.

He said even a worse case scenario would have been beneficial to the town. If the team defaulted, the town would have a $640,000 facility for $140,000.

He said the school district has funds from the Department of Defense, Supplement to Federal Impact Aid, channeled through the U.S. Department of Education. The DOD website states that "... there are no restrictions regarding how eligible school districts should spend DOD Impact Aid Program funds."

Kadri's position is that using these federal funds is not using local tax dollars, although that stand is being disputed by several town officials.

"I'm just waiting for them (the town) to cut the check," Kadri said. "I don't know why they won't do it. To me this thing makes perfect sense."

Kadri said it was August when he learned that the team did not have the funds to cover about $140,000.

"We want the Schooners to stay here. The community likes them, the kids love them," Kadri said. "So we really want to work this out with the team. But the fact is, if we have to pay the difference, they will have defaulted on the contract."

School board member Robert Peruzzotti, who is on the Schooners' staff and was a point person in bringing the team to town and finding the benefactor, is frustrated at the idea of paying the $140,000.

"I knew the bid was more than the allotted money," Peruzzotti said. "I asked Paul (Kadri) to see what could be done to reduce it. We voted originally to back the project and perform the work. This is the first I officially heard that it was over the budgeted amount."

The board will meet at 5 p.m., Monday, at the Town Hall Annex, first in executive session, then in open session to discuss and explain the matter.

c.potter@theday.com

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