WESTERLY — A yearslong project to replace the grass at Augeri Field and the Westerly High School quad with artificial turf is accelerating, with designs almost done and fundraising picking up after the holidays.
The School Committee on Sept. 21 approved spending $50,000 on design services for field reconstruction. Design work now is about 60 to 70% complete, Westerly Recreation Board Chairman Ed Haik told the committee Jan. 18.
Chris Hulk, director of design and construction for FieldTurf, the company selected for the project, has completed test pits at the field, gathered topographic information and reviewed its history, Haik said.
A draft plan is set and ready to be reviewed for town permitting, Haik added. Next will be a meeting including Haik, Hulk, Town Manager Shawn Lacey, Town Planner Nancy Letendre and officials from zoning and engineering, Haik said.
“I’m hoping within the next month or so we’ll have everything, from drainage up to the field and true cost and everything related to it,” he said.
While design work continues, fundraising for the projected $2.4 million undertaking resumed Jan. 3, after a pause for the holidays and the town’s vote on the $50 million elementary school facilities bond.
“We didn’t want to interfere with what was happening during that period, and it was a wise decision,” Dan Barry, the town’s fields fundraising consultant, said.
Barry said the campaign has 37 active assigned major gift prospects, plus another eight coming on board this week.
“Visits are being made and discussions are happening around town for this to happen,” Barry said, adding that he’s pleased at the prospect of 45 active solicitations for the project.
“To see 45 prospects being assigned to a group of men and women who care about your community is cool to see,” he said. “So we’re really enthusiastic that it’s going to happen.”
The town council was set to vote on transferring $500,000 to the project in late October, but opted to wait until after the November referendum. The new council has yet to vote on the transfer.
Installation of turf would help to address drainage issues, increase field usability, improve availability, increase town programming and reduce overall field maintenance costs in the community.
Haik said in October that the plan is scaled back considerably when compared to the 2018 proposal of just under $6 million. He said that with the current proposal, the turf maintenance would require about an hour or two of manpower every four to six weeks, compared to three to five hours per day with grass fields. That would reduce costs significantly, with just $10,000 to $15,000 needed annually.
Currently, the town spends more than $100,000 annually on paint, water, fertilizer, sod, labor and sod replacement at the two locations, Haik said.
For Westerly High School athletic teams, the turf would provide options that the current fields do not. Due to field use limitations — Haik said Augeri Field can sustain just 133 two-hour events per year, while the quad currently houses 325 practices and events despite having a recommended threshold of just 250 — members of the boys and girls varsity and junior varsity soccer teams have had to relocate to the Gingerella Sports Complex several miles away in order to hold daily practices.
He said there is no room to expand that use, and added that his Parks and Recreation staff have struggled to keep up with needs as the community has seen expanded use at other fields, such as soccer practices at Gingerella.
Haik said having a turf field could also expand business opportunities as well, noting that an annual softball tournament at Cimalore Field attracts hundreds of teams from throughout northeast U.S. states, bringing a tremendous increase in retail sales and hospitality businesses in Westerly.