Burrillville school board considers ceding control of Alumni Field to town for pursuit of synthetic turf

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BURRILLVILLE – Members of the Town Council want to look for funding sources to replace the grass football field at Burrillville High School with synthetic turf, and add lighting to the facility.

But first, the school district would need to turn authority of Alumni Field over to town officials, a condition members of the School Committee were hesitant to approve this month when Supt. Michael Sollitto presented the plan.

“Certainly we’re in favor of any upgrades to the fields our kids play on,” said Sollitto. “In order to do that the field has to be under town control. There’s certain avenues the town can use to pursue that funding.”

Sollitto said authority over the field would be granted to the town for a two year period, with procedures and use of the facility to remain the same. When and if funding for installation of synthetic turf was secured, a committee would be formed to lay out new policies and procedures.

The superintendent outlined the benefits of an artificial turf field, typically a roughly $1 million expense that comes with a 10-year life span and between $10,000 and $20,000 in annual maintenance. Currently, the field is used primarily by the high school’s gym classes and the Bronco football team.

“It can be used year-round,” Sollitto said. “It won’t get torn up as a grass field would. It’s usually lined for several different sports.”

“We have problems keeping up with the maintenance of our fields,” he explained.

But Athletic Director John Abbate presented a long list of concerns regarding how the change in authority would ultimately play out.

“Will we still have the authority to accommodate last minute changes that are required by our teams?” Abbate asked. “That’s a huge concern. If it’s not open, the high school’s got to find a different date and time to play.”

Further, Abbate noted, “I haven’t had much success when it comes to the town taking care of our fields. They do their best.”

Abbate also questioned if town officials envisioned the facility as a place to make a profit – or even break even in terms of ongoing use and maintenance.

“I don’t see that happening,” he said, noting he’s also concerned about who would supervise the facility.

The athletic director pointed out that in 2022, school fields are expected to be back in full use for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

“We’re back to beating up the fields again,” Abbate said.

“I’m sure you’ll make the decision that is best for our kids,” he added to committee members.

Sollitto noted that, “There’s all kinds of federal money that’s available to municipalities right now for this type of project,” but, “they’re not going to start the process if the field isn’t under their control.”

“There’s still a lot of discussions to be had,” Sollitto added. “It’s going to be awhile.”

Sollitto noted that even if funding is found immediately, “It’s probably a two year process from start to finish, at minimum.”

School Committee Chairperson Alexandra LeClair said she trusts that intentions on the project are sincere.

“I don’t see this as a power play at all,” LeClair said. “Maybe that’s me being naive. I think this is them being very excited to provide something to our athletes. I think they’ve stressed collaboration, partnership.”

The committee ultimately voted to table the issue for one month to get more of both their and Abbate’s questions answered.

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