Stonington fields may be too worn to be used

Stonington - With just a few weeks to go before the Stonington High School sports teams begin fall practice, several of the overused athletic fields are in such poor condition that teams may not be able to use them for practice or games.

Over the past week, school and town officials have toured the fields and exchanged a flurry of emails after coaches alerted them to potholes, burnt grass and bare patches where the summer weather has made it difficult to regrow grass.

The field hockey, football and boys' soccer fields have been affected after seeding done this spring has still not resulted in grass. The football practice field, which is in the worst condition, will remain closed because of safety concerns. Plans call for possibly using the lawn next to the tennis courts for football practice and have teams also practice on the baseball and softball fields.

"If there were games today, I don't think the officials would allow the teams to play," Interim Superintendent of Schools Paul Smotas said Tuesday. "I'm disappointed in the condition of the fields."

Smotas said he plans to update the Board of Education Thursday about the problem.

He said he is in the process of getting estimates on how much it will cost to install turf on the bare spots instead of waiting for grass to grow over the next few weeks. Smotas estimated it may cost between $15,000 and $30,000 to install the turf, but there is no money in the school budget to do that work.

"I'm not convinced that grass will ever grow in those spots," he said.

He said he will also be talking to high school Principal Stephen Murphy and Athletic Director Bryan Morrone about contingency plans in case the fields cannot be used.

The Athletic Fields Task Force has developed a $2 million proposal to repair all the fields and install artificial turf on the football field. The project could go to a referendum vote this fall, but work would likely not begin until next year, and it could take another year to compete.

"Until that comes to fruition, we have to maintain safe and playable athletic fields," Smotas said.

In an email to school officials last week, football coach A.J. Massengale wrote that as far as he could tell, very little has been done to his two fields this spring and summer, setting the stage for problems not only for his team but also for youth football programs this fall.

"There are dangerous pot holes, dirt patches, and rocks on the game field that I would like to show all of you. Also, as has been the case for the past several years, the middle of the field (between the hash marks) is largely weeds that will die off this fall regardless of use or care. This will continue the degradation of the field with or without field use. I know there are plans to vote on the field issue in the coming months but there are a lot of games to be played in the field's immediate future," he wrote.

In an email to First Selectman Ed Haberek, boys' soccer coach Paul deCastro said poor field conditions prevented his team from playing on its field for the first five weeks last season. He said it is possible his team may not be able to use the field again at the start of this season.

In his response, Haberek called the field conditions "horrible" and said the problems should have been addressed earlier in the year.

On Friday, Smotas sent a list of recommendations to school board members. The first called for keeping the football practice field closed. He said that if it is to be reopened, it will need to be rototilled, top-dressed and reseeded, which he said would be a costly procedure.

He suggested removing the rocks and cutting the grass in front of the tennis courts to create another practice area and continue to monitor the grass seed growth patterns at all fields.

He also suggested creating an item in the 2013-14 budget to repair all the fields each summer by installing turf and not reseeding, and continuing the discussion on installing an artificial turf field.


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