On Thursday night the Board of Education took a vote to request funding for a feasibility on what would be needed to upgrade fields at Central Middle School, though whether that might mean artificial turf or a proper natural grass field with proper drainage was not specified.
Feasibility would involve traffic studies, pedestrian safety studies, soil studies and a plan for working with the athletic department, neighbors and parents.
The backdrop to this decision are that ther are two conversations taking place in Greenwich – one about the Town’s overall lack of capacity in terms of playing fields and one about the feasibility of upgrading one of the three middle school fields.
Though ultimately the board voted in favor of pursuing the feasibility of upgrading CMS, there was also some discussion of upgrading Western Middle School.
The issue there is that a remediation plan and timeline there are yet to be finalized. The district is subject to the state and the EPA to get a remediation plan approved at WMS.
Laurie O’Donnell presented the recommendation to study feasibility of upgrading CMS using $300K in the FY 18-19 capital plan budget.
O’Donnell said WMS has an unknown timeline for soil remediation, and that CMS is centrally located. She noted that at CMS there is parking availability and the school can accommodate a regulation sized field.
She said CMS also has close proximity to Greenwich High School, and that the site design stage would include an MI application.
“We’ll look at options for turf and grass and options for field layout, lighting traffic and safety studies, stakeholder feedback,” O’Donnell said.
Dr. Francis moved that the board accept the proposal.
“We need this for our middle school students,” Dr. Francis said. “Forget the high school. Our principals are asking for this. They have limits on their ability to accomplish their PE work because the fields are in such bad shape.”
Kathleen Stowe said she felt both CMS and WMS fields should be considered.
Peter Sherr said the focus on the Central Middle School field project grew out of the clear need for an additional practice field to support Greenwich High School athletics. “It was not someone saying, ‘Oh, gee, Let’s go upgrade a middle schools.’ The level of misinformation about this project was quite high,” he said. “Why can’t administrators tell us what we need?” he asked.
“I don’t want to get into the situation we got into last year where GHS said they needed an additional field. We said ‘Great.’ We’re going to get them access to CMS with lights, only to have the football coach to say, ‘That’s totally unusable for what I need it for,'” Sherr said. “I’m puzzled we don’t know what we need to support our GHS athletic programs considered we’ve been studying it for 18 months. Why can’t the administrators tell us what we need?”
“Why can’t we say we need turf now?” Sherr asked. “Our job is to advocate for academic need. Can someone tell me what is the academic need?”
“The original intent was to be a backup for GHS,” Ms. Rabin said. “Can we agree what problem are we trying to solve?”
Jennifer Dayton said she recommended capping and turfing Western Middle School field.
“I want to see turf, not grass,” Dayton said. “I want to cap any contamination that exists. It has a great place in town for traffic. It has the possibility for lighting and capacity for parking. It is a wonderful optimal place for us to upgrade a field.”
Dr. Francis said Greenwich High School students go over to Julian Curtiss School for practices and nobody seems to object.
“I think this is something that is reasonable, but we need to explain it carefully and clearly for people to understand it,” Dr. Francis said.
“We need an additional all-weather field to support our athletic program. It cannot be placed at GHS. There is no room,” Mr. Sherr said. “The most obvious place is Central Middle School. I’m never turfing a field at Eastern Middle School. It’s not appropriate and not needed. I’ll support it at Central, and may support it at Western.”
“Why is it okay for one middle school and not another if the need is truly for a middle school?” Mr. Bernstein asked.
“The answer is CMS has space for three or four fields. Western has three fields. Eastern is so small it doesn’t have the space,” Sherr said.
“Let’s say the state moves quickly. I don’t want to see it left behind,”Bernstein said.
“I’ll add that we’re thinking about it,” O’Donnell offered.
“There are some economies of scale to do both schools,”Ms. Stowe said.
“I want focused rifle shot projects that we really need,” Sherr said.
“We haven’t tested the soil at CMS. Is there any possibility we’ll be out another field?” Ms. Olsson asked.
“Yes, we run that risk,” Ms. O’Donnell said.
“We don’t really have the money to do the feasibility for both CMS and WMS,” Barbara O’Neill said.
A motion to amend the resolution to add WMS failed.
The motion to do the feasibility study for upgrading the fields at CMS passed 5 to 3, with Dr. Francis, chairman Bernstein, Peter Sherr and Lauren Rabin in favor, and Jennifer Dayton, Meghan Olsson and Kathleen Stowe voting against.
During public comment which took place before the BOE discussion, CMS neighbors testified in opposition of upgrading the fields if it meant GHS students would use them.
Liane Tel, who lives at 1 Coachlamp Lane, said if Greenwich High athletes use fields at CMS, they will arrive at the school early and wait for their practice starts until the CMS kids finish their sports.
“Once the high school students get out of school, they won’t go home for a half hour, they’ll go to the middle school if that’s where the practice is going to be,” Tel said. “They’ll drive and walk. Once their practice starts will they have access to the bathrooms or locker rooms? …How will you ensure the safety of all kids? Because of recent events, I’d like to know the plans for keeping the middle school kids safe around high school students.”
“I don’t want high schoolers in my front yard. I don’t want cars blocking my driveway as teens laugh and throw cigarette butts and kiss their love birds,” said CMS neighbor Katherine Nogaki. “There’s pep rallies, college scouts, or parents that just want to watch this one game. This is silly. I don’t whistles blowing, coaches yelling, lights blaring. Have you done all your homework? Soil samples? Traffic patterns? Have middle school sports program schedules been looked at? You have tied our hands behind our backs and that is not fair.”
Kate Noonan Glaser of Coachlamp Lane said she was concerned about the mixed use of fields and supervision if CMS became a high school field. “They’re going to hang out in those fields. That’s what high school kids do,” she said.
Others, including Marc Ducret, said more and more youth are playing sports, and the town needs more turf. “Grass fields don’t hold up. I don’t think realistically the town can maintain grass fields. If you look at the grass fields in town, they’re in horrible condition.”
Mr. Ducret said that at Riverside a child fell on the field where there was a rock and his injury required 20 stitches.
“I hear that noise for practice and recess and those whistles can be annoying, but I chose to live next to a school,” he said, adding that two girls on the track team crashed running in the track in the dark this past season, and one got a concussion.
Sharon Sunoo said all the school fields need improvement. “Our fields are in dire need of help,” she said. “Part of a board member’s job is to find ways of funding. We’re shortchanging our children with the type of facilities we’re given. We have fields with potholes. We’ve got lighting issues, all of them exacerbated by the 3:15 dismissal.”
JP Muir, whose eldest is in college after attending GHS, also has a junior at GHS and a child at Julian Curtiss, said there are superior facilities in New Canaan, Darien and Staples in Westport, which has an indoor field house he described as “Chelsea Piers-esque.”
Muir said the district should do comparables to other towns. “My family is in support of the upgrading of the stadium, and the later start time,” he said. “As a father I’ve seen the benefit of later start time and the positive impact on my children,” Muir added.
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