BURRILLVILLE – Members of the Burrillville Town Council voted unanimously in December to allocate up to $5 million to build an artificial turf field at Burrillville High School following assurances from Town Manager Michael Wood that the town can afford the new expense.
It is major step forward for a project that’s been discussed by proponents for the past several years. While a bond will be issued to pay for the project, Wood noted the loan will likely be for less than the full approved, “not-to-exceed,” amount.
“We will work to find financial options to lower the cost of the bond,” the town manager noted in a memo to the council, pointing to remaining American Rescue Plan Act funding and CIP allocations.
“I think you can afford a field if you want a field,” Wood added at the meeting. “It’s not going to be a terrible hit. I wouldn’t be telling you, ‘you can afford it,’ if you couldn’t afford it.”
The finer details of the project – including location – still remain unknown. Town Council President Donald Fox, who has been a driving force behind the initiative, noted that supporters initially looked at adding a synthetic field to serve Bronco athletes at Burrillville Middle School, and more recently, BHS’s Alumni Field. Fox said the committee appointed to spearhead the project is now also looking at the high school’s lower Gledhill Field, where soccer and lacrosse teams currently play.
“We can’t go much further on the committee level unless we know that the council is behind this project,” Fox said at the meeting.
Cost estimates provided by Joe Casali of Casali Engineering put the price tag around $3.9 million before parking improvements of around $500,000, but Wood noted that construction bids have been coming in higher. Casali said the plan envisions a third party contract for maintenance, estimated to cost around $5 million over 30 years.
“Maintenance is really a key to this asset working for you,” Casali said.
Turf fields, an increasingly popular alternative to traditional grass fields, typically last between 12 and 15 years before replacement, costing between $1 million and $1.2 million, is required.
“We can certainly do far better than what they did in North Smithfield,” Fox said.
The neighboring town spent $1 million last year to replace a similar field at North Smithfield High School built 13 years prior.
While the funding initiative ultimately won support from the full council in Burrillville, several in attendance at the meeting pointed to the need to provide improvements and maintenance plans for other town sports facilities.
“This whole project shouldn’t be focused solely on the field. We should be looking at a track,” said School Committee member Donison Allen, noting the current track has exceeded its useful life. “That’s my own personal two cents about it.”
Fox noted that there’s no room to add a new track at either of the potential locations under consideration.
“It doesn’t mean that track should be ignored,” Fox said. “I think it’s another project from the current project.”
Councilor Jeremy Bailey pointed to the town’s baseball facilities.
“I’d like to identify a plan for the other fields,” Bailey said. “I’d like to see a master plan for how all of the other fields are going to tie into this.”
Fox agreed that a comprehensive facilities plan should be part of the project once it’s finalized.
Councilor Justin Batalon said he’s concerned about the potential for knee and ankle injuries.
“Throughout the country, there’s a lot of lawsuits being brought up,” Batalon said of the synthetic turf.
But others pointed to the asset they say the new facilities will be be for the larger community, with BHS Football Head Coach Gennaro Ferraro noting that a quality field could help the school district to retain and attract more students.
“We’re losing kids,” Ferraro said. “Our population in the school has dropped.”
Athletic Director John Abbate pointed out that between limited handicap parking and long walks to use bathrooms, current facilities are not very, “fan-friendly.”
“There’s a lot of parents, grandparents who aren’t coming to games,” Abbate said, making a case for the initiative. “It’s something that we need. I just don’t want to lose this opportunity.”
School Committee member Terri Lacey also pointed to the financial benefits.
“You have to run the schools like a business today,” Lacey said. “It’s retaining the kids that you have. This is a way we can stop losing revenue.”
Fox said that night games could also be an economic driver for businesses, urging councilors to move forward.
“We run the risk of this just going on and on,” Fox said, noting that the town is, “easily two plus years behind the schedule,” he originally envisioned when the project was first discussed in 2018, largely due to delays from the pandemic.
“We’ve got the momentum right now,” Fox said, also pointing to rising costs. “If we delay and kick it down the road, it’s going to get worse.”
The council-approved funding resolution for the new facility includes seating, storage facilities, lights, a scoreboard, a press box, food concessions, draining and additional parking.