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Lyme-Old Lyme $2.28 million school turf field moves forward

Old Lyme — After receiving unanimous approval from the town’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission on Tuesday evening, it appears a proposed $2.28 million synthetic turf field project the Region 18 Board of Education is considering building is moving forward.

The 143,000-square-foot, all-weather, multipurpose field, if eventually approved by the Board of Education, will be located behind the middle and high schools and will overlay an already existing practice field, accommodating soccer, lacrosse, baseball and softball games and practices, as well as physical education classes.

Currently, the district plays sports games only on its track and soccer/lacrosse fields, both of which are irrigated. But with an all-weather synthetic turf field, Superintendent Ian Neviaser said by phone Tuesday, the school’s sports teams could play and practice year-round in almost any weather condition. That would lower use of the district’s two grass sports fields, possibly minimizing irrigation demands and preserving groundwater. The practice field where the turf field is proposed to be built is not irrigated and dries out quickly, Neviaser has said.

“We are not necessarily doing this (project) as a money-saving effort,” Neviaser said. “We are doing it so we don’t have to continue to use our game fields as our practice fields and put so much time, money and effort into upkeeping our game fields. This will allow us to keep (those grass game fields) at a higher quality because they won’t be taking as much of a beating.”

The estimated $2.28 million needed to build the new turf field does not include bleachers, lighting and other stadium upgrades, a shock-pad cushion or pricier infill material options and does not include the cost to replace the field in 10 to 15 years, nor maintenance costs, estimated at between $10,000 and $20,000 a year. Presently, the district spends more than $11,000 annually to maintain the practice field that would be replaced by the turf field, and more than $73,000 annually to maintain all of its fields.

The district will need to decide which infill option it would like to have installed with the field and whether it would like to spend more on higher-quality materials instead of the less-expensive crumb rubber in the initial estimate.

The Board of Education has been discussing the possibility of installing a synthetic turf field for several years now and selected engineering and consulting firm Milone & MacBroom of Cheshire to complete engineering and design work for the field, as well as obtain regulatory approvals from the town, in October 2019 agreeing to spend $26,800 from the district’s undesignated fund to finance that work, according to meeting minutes.

In December, Milone & MacBroom architect Kevin Fuselier presented plans for the field before the board with a proposed timeline of the project, which included plans to present the field to the public and obtain needed land-use permits from the town in 2020.

The timeline outlined that the final design would be complete by fall 2020 and construction could begin as early as summer 2021. Construction would take four months, Fuselier has said.

Neviaser said by phone Tuesday he wasn’t sure if the school district also would need to go before the town’s Zoning Commission for further approval, he stressed that the Board of Education still has not formally decided it will follow through on the project but has agreed to move forward with the regulatory and design process in the meantime.

The board had scheduled a presentation of the field to the public in late March, but after schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the presentation had been put off. Neviaser said the presentation has not yet been rescheduled but a virtual one may be held.

If the school board agrees to move forward with building the new turf field, the district does not intend to bond for the project but plans to pay for it through district savings, into which the board has funneled up to 1% of its total budget each year. Neviaser has said the savings is used to help finance larger projects, avoiding large budget increases and the need to bond.

As of June 30, 2019, the balance of that account hovered around $1.7 million. Neviaser said after savings from this year’s fiscal budget are added, the balance will be slightly more than $2 million. He has estimated the fund will have $2.5 million by the end of June 2021.

Besides the turf-field project, the district also is planning a renovation of its three elementary and middle schools in the next five years, upgrading the HVAC systems, as well as other enhancements. Neviaser said that project is estimated to cost $15 million and will be bonded.

While speaking Tuesday evening before the wetlands commission, which is reviewing the project because 29,000 to 30,000 square feet of the project is proposed to extend into the town’s 100-foot upland review area — or the 100 feet surrounding any wetland — Megan Raymond, a registered soil scientist and professional wetland scientist with Milone & MacBroom, explained the project does not pose any direct, adverse impacts to the town’s wetlands — in this case the Duck River water system. She added that possible indirect impacts will be managed both by sediment and soil erosion control measures, which include putting up hay bales and silt fencing around the site during construction, as well as long-term stormwater management measures.

A drainage system installed underneath the field's surface will collect and distribute water landing on the field to an existing detention basin south of the field that drains into nearby “forested wetlands via a 24-inch corrugated pipe,” according to a wetland delineation and impact assessment submitted to the commission as part of the application.

Most rainwater landing on the field, however, will be absorbed through a permeable stone base installed under the synthetic turf infill and then into the ground, Fuselier said at Tuesday’s meeting, “and not put a burden on this detention pond.”

He added that while ball safety netting, concrete access paths and electric utilities will be built around the field, light poles and fixtures are not part of the proposed plans.

While the commission did not raise many concerns with Fuselier and Raymond about the application, commission member Evan Griswold questioned whether rainwater warmed from landing on a hot synthetic turf surface in the summer draining from the detention basin could adversely impact the Duck River.

Fuselier said that Milone & MacBroom has completed studies and testing on heat generated by turf fields and because the field will be built on at least 8 inches of granite stone, water will lose its heat while passing through that material. With “the cloud cover from a rain event ... the cooling rain and ... the cool substructure of the turf ... we haven’t seen any issues with thermal temperatures,” he said.

m.biekert@theday.com

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