Synthetic turf field pursuits move forward in Burrillville

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BURRILLVILLE – It’s an initiative that officials say will take at least two years to become reality – even in the best of circumstances – but town officials are now working to find funding sources for construction of an artificial turf field at Burrillville High School.

The Burrillville School Committee voted unanimously in favor of ceding control of the school’s Alumni Field to the town at their meeting on Tuesday, April 12, a step Town Council President Donald Fox said was critical to his board’s pursuit of available resources for the project.

“The town is going to want authority of that field in order to move forward,” Fox said last week. “If we don’t come up with anything, it’s going to revert back to the school department.”

Supt. Michael Sollitto first brought the request for control of the field to the school board in March, but committee members voted to table the idea, hoping to obtain answers to questions to concerns regarding how a new facility might be run.

Those answers, all agreed Tuesday, will be laid out by a subcommittee made up of both school board members, and others with interest in the field only when, and if, funding sources are found.

“This is probably going to be a multi-year project,” Fox said, noting the town could pursue a bond for the project, or use funds allocated to capital improvements. “The impetus will be on us to move forward as quickly as we can. There’s going to be planning.”

“Our school teams would always have priority at this field – period,” Sollitto clarified.

Construction, Sollitto noted, will cost around $2.8 million, before parking lot improvements are considered.

“First and foremost, it would be for our school teams,” Fox agreed, noting on down times the field would also likely be made available to outside leagues, such as the Burrillville Patriots. “You might find other communities looking to rent the field. If we have lights, it’s going to open up whole realms of opportunity to us in terms of how long we can play.”

Committee Vice Chairperson Sylvia St. Pierre asked who will be responsible to replace the field when its life span runs out in ten to 12 years, quoting former BHS coach Tom Eccleston’s mantra that, “Sports are the dessert. Education is the meat and potatoes.”

“We’re looking at millions of dollars in the future,” St. Pierre said. “In ten to 12 years, we need another million. That money would take away from what else we need to do. Are our programs going to be impacted?”

Fox, who presented the idea and answers with help from Public Works Director Jeffrey McCormick, said the town would likely be responsible – with contributions from the School Department.

“This is a project that’s going to require strict fiscal stewardship,” Fox said, noting that funds raised at the facility – including concessions – would be put aside for the eventual replacement. “This is never going to be a profit maker, but you’re going to generate revenue.”

The opportunity, Fox said, comes in part from the influx in federal funding made available to communities across the country for pandemic recovery.

“I believe that we have an opportunity right now,” he said. “We’re not going to be presented with this type of money very often.”

Fox said the initiative to improve Alumni Field began after town officials formed a committee to look at installing synthetic turf at a school facility already under town control: the field by Burrillville Middle School.

“What came out of that work group was really a focus around Alumni Field,” Fox said. “We probably have one of the best high school fields in the state.”

Committee member Terri Lacey described Tuesday’s decision as a, “no brainer.”

“Sports are a big thing in this town,” Lacey said. “We are a title town, and I’m proud to say it.”

Chairperson Alexandra Leclair agreed.

“I really, really feel like we have to take advantage of this opportunity,” Leclair said. “It’s been a great partnership with the Town Council.”

Fox noted that councilors also look at the project as, “an economic mini-engine for the town.”

“Just think of night games in this town – what it can mean to our restaurants, for our gas stations, for our convenience stores… for our Dunkin,” Fox said.

“This is a facility that I think would be top notch for Burrillville High School,” he added. “A field like this is going to provide for generations to come.”

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