NORTH SMITHFIELD – Just five months after the North Smithfield School Committee voted to begin a $1 million project to replace the synthetic turf field at North Smithfield High School, the new surface was ready for action this week, and the first game was a matchup for the annual Thanksgiving rivalry football game.
The North Smithfield/Mount Saint Charles Co-op played Scituate at a 6 p.m. game at the new facilities on Wednesday, Nov. 24, shutting out the Spartans 30-0.
And now, school officials are looking at plans to ensure the field is self-sustaining, with rentals to generate revenue for future repairs.
The turf replacement project is near completion according to Supt. Michael St. Jean, and while the new surface still needs final inspections, it will be open and ready for the holiday match this week.
“It will be ready for Thanksgiving Day,” St. Jean told members of the board at a meeting Tuesday, Nov. 16.
Committee members voted unanimously in June to replace both the field and accompanying track with funds saved in a surplus account during the pandemic. A bid of $1,017,159 was awarded to firm FieldTurf Tarkett, to redo the 13-year-old surfaces, which had been deemed unsafe by a company hired to evaluate conditions.
This week, St. Jean discussed new efforts to maintain and preserve the investment, which has a 15 year life span.
“The goal would be that with more games at the field and the increased rentals, that we can have we’ll be able within a ten year period pay for replacements and updates,” St. Jean said.
The superintendent said that the district has also purchased new equipment to maintain the surface.
“We will be able to groom the field to extend the life as long as possible,” said St. Jean.
Now, the committee must look at new issues – such as scheduling and rules for the crisp new surfaces at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium – with hopes of providing some public access. St. Jean noted that only soft soled shoes should be used on the turf, and in the past issues such as discarded gum and litter have been a problem.
“One of the things I don’t want to do – and a number of communities have done this with their synthetic turf fields and their professional tracks – is not allow any public use,” he said. “I don’t think anybody wants to deny the public use of these fields, but it has to be done in a controlled way.”
“Teams from other communities just kind of show up on our football field and use it for practice,” St. Jean explained. “They haven’t booked it. They haven’t rented it. They’re just using it. We need to be able to watch it and maintain it.”
Efforts are also underway to expand the district’s track and field program by installing a throwing area. The field and track projects, St. Jean said, were, “tightly managed, coming in under budget.
“The intent was to take some of that savings and apply it toward that throwing area,” St. Jean said.
Officials were initially hoping that throwing facilities could share space with the softball field, but the superintendent said that would cause the district to come up against scheduling and maintenance issues. Instead, school officials are now working on plans that would allow both facilities to fit in the available space behind NSHS.
“There will be an increased cost to this one,” said St. Jean, noting that the plan would require installation of a 60-foot fence along the side facing the middle school parking lot side. “We don’t want them to be shattering car windows so it will require a very long very high fence.”
A separate project to install a concession stand and bathroom by the football field is also underway, an effort St. Jean pointed to as another potential source of revenue down the road.
The combined projects aim to grow North Smithfield’s athletic programs, maximize space and the fields and ultimately create a self-sustaining system, St. Jean said.
St. Jean said he hopes to have design plans and cost estimate for the throwing area ready for presentation at the school board’s next meeting in December.
Editor’s note: An original version of this article stated that the game would take place Thanksgiving Day, while it is actually the night before. We apologize for the mistake.