Superintendent of Schools Ralph Mayo has announced that the Greenwich High School Cardinal Field home side bleachers are closed effective immediately pending repair to bring them up to current code and/or replacement as part of the Cardinal Field development project.
“We realize this is an inconvenience for upcoming athletic and ceremonial events. However, we will not compromise the safety of our staff, students, families or visitors to our schools. The high school is working on alternative plans for graduation and athletic events, and will issue details as soon as they are available,” said Greenwich Schools superintendent in a statement released Monday afternoon.
Replacement of the approximately 50 year old Cardinal Field bleachers is a priority project for the Greenwich Public Schools 2019-2020 capital budget pending RTM action on the budget at the May 13 meeting.
Additional and recent concerns about the bleachers prompted the District to contract with engineers to conduct an inspection.
The Town Building Department also conducted an inspection of the GHS bleachers.
Findings indicate that while the bleachers had some remedial work and temporary shoring installed in 2016, both the District’s engineer and the Town Building Department concur that the bleachers need to be brought up to current building codes.
Specifically, at the time the bleachers were built, it appears they were built to a standard of 60 pounds per square foot. Currently, code requires that the structure hold 100 pounds per square foot. The District is researching options for short-term repair and timelines for replacement -if the capital project is approved.
Last November the district paid to have the bleachers power washed.
The Cardinal Field development project began with an initial feasibility study conducted in 2017-2018, calling for replacement of the aging bleachers, among other facility and grounds accessibility, safety and use improvements.
The GHS bleachers have been in headlines before.
When Greenwich’s school age population outgrew the the old high school (now Town Hall) during the 1960’s baby boom, the Town bickered for years over where to locate a new high school.
After a bruising battle, the Town selected the current site on Hillside Road and the “new” school opened in 1970.
Unfortunately, the school was built on wetlands before the Wetlands Act passed in 1972.
Oral histories in Greenwich Library contain evidence of warnings that went unheeded. Long before “fill” was brought in to combat soggy fields in the 1970s and again between 2003 and 2005.
Robert Holbeck, who served on the RTM and BET and was a selectman in the mid 1960s, was interviewed for the oral history project in 1976 at the age of 55.
Weighing in on the “new” high school, Holbeck said, “They built it where I used to ice skate; where the football field is. …My grandfather cut ice there for the icehouse…we would go to the ponds with our big saws and cut ice, and pay for it. But I skated there. That was Ten Acres… There’s no firm foundation there, you see. Mother Nature. You don’t fool with Mother Nature… Oh, the architects will build a catch basin. That’s all it is. It runs around the field.”
The first ramification of the siting of the new GHS was that PE classes took place on wet fields, and eventually the district decided to relocated the bleachers.
The 1976 GHS yearbook includes photos of a surprise helicopter visit attempting to remove the bleachers from the field on the north end of campus because of its “unstable land.”
The plan was to relocate the athletic field to the “new track and field complex.” A subcommittee, created to oversee the project said they did not publicize the grandstand relocation because they had no way of controlling a large turnout.
In any event, the bleachers were too heavy to move in one visit. Though one section was relocated during the first attempt, the helicopter had to return two weeks later to move the remainder, which had by then been dismantled into two portions.
According to former Greenwich resident, Kris Walsh, GHS class of 1977, “We knew it (GHS) was built on a swamp and the joke was during sports practices, that if it had rained at all, that the only equipment they needed was a pair of rubber boots or a life raft! Rumors swirled that the school was sinking a smidge every year, and the joke was wishing it would happen before we graduated.”
Last month the BET did approve funds for Phase 1 of the Cardinal Stadium project.
“We wanted to make sure the BOE had enough money in this coming year to address the immediate need for the bleachers, but also added conditions to make sure there is dialogue with the community and interest groups who are supporting that project to address the needs at the site,” BET Jill Oberlander said on in an interview on WGCH 1490 on March 29.