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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

WALLINGFORD - Panel: Fitzgerald Field needs complete overhaul

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday November 14, 2012

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD — A committee formed to assess the Lyman Hall High School track informed the Board of Education Operations Committee Tuesday night that the entire athletic facility at Fitzgerald Field needs to be overhauled.

The update would include the immediate installation of a new turf football field, six-lane track, handicap accessible bathrooms and lights, with a new concessions building and another building that would include a weight room and training room scheduled for construction further down the road.

Board of Education member Kathy Castelli, who served on the committee, said initially it was all about getting the track redone.

“We can get by this year, but that’s pushing it,” she said.

After a presentation by Lyman Hall Athletic Director Amy Labas on Tuesday night, the Operations Committee — consisting of five board members, with only four present Tuesday night — unanimously decided the project would move forward to the regular Board of Education for action during their Friday meeting.

“We’re at a point where it’s necessary to switch to all-season turf,” Labas said.

Labas said the initial project — including the turf field, track, bathroom and lights — is estimated to cost $1.2 million. With the addition of a concession stand, the project is estimated at $1.5 million. The school district already has $300,000 secured for the project for track funds.

School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo asked that the board allow the project to move forward so the school district could pursue time-sensitive grant opportunities, specifically the Whorrel Grant. Fred Balsimo, a member of the committee asked to look at the track, said the grant could pay for a certain percentage of the project that was put at just over $100,000 with current estimates.

The committee decided to hire an independent consultant for the project, and the district must go out to bid for the consultant before it can apply for the competitive national grant. Balsimo said only two of eight schools in the state have been approved for the grant.

Balsimo, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors, said “I’m here to help because I live in Wallingford.”

Mary Fritz, who represents the 90th General Assembly district, said that she and Balsimo both helped find grant money for the Sheehan High School turf field, but didn’t remain active in the process. This time, they both said they are in for the long haul.

Fritz said she has tentatively secured $525,000 for the project that was previously allocated through bonding for a project in Wallingford about 10 years ago that she refused to name. She said that she called the state Office of Fiscal Analysis on Tuesday and found that the bond funds were still leftover.

“All I have to do is change the title of the bond to Lyman Hall, and we have $525,000,” Fritz said.
This was news to Menzo, who asked “who are you taking it from?”

“It’s not your concern,” Fritz replied. “It’s not new money. It was already approved.”

With funding tentatively in place, the project only needs about $275,000. Along with the Whorrel Grant and the money Fritz found, the school district plans to look into a Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant, which can provide up to $500,000. Fritz said that Cheshire has received money for several projects through STEAP money. The caveat, said Fritz, is that the grant can only be applied for by Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.

Menzo asked Fritz if the money could be split, so the school district received $275,000 and the town could receive the rest.

“You’re going down the wrong track,” Fritz said. “(Dickinson) is not going to do that.”

Menzo replied, “I’d give it a shot.”

If the project moves forward on Friday, Labas said ground will be broken on July 1, 2013, with hopes the field and track will be done by the time school starts. Labas has lined up several fundraisers for the project; including an April 1 5K at Lyman Hall that will become an annual event. In a survey of about 70 parents of athletes at the school performed by Labas, 59 percent said they don’t think Lyman Hall athletic facilities measure up to competition.

The project, she said, “is something that will enhance the program.”

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