WESTERLY — A subcommittee with two representatives each from the Town Council and School Committee, and members of the Recreation Board, will be charged with prioritizing projects to improve the town’s recreation facilities and programs. The panel will also be asked to recommend potential funding strategies that could include borrowing through a bond issue as well as earmarking funds in the municipal operating budget and the annual capital improvement plan.
Town Council President Christopher Duhamel and School Committee Chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy both suggested formation of the subcommittee Monday toward the conclusion of an hourlong joint meeting of the two bodies. Ed Haik, Recreation Board chairman, and Paul Duffy, recreation director, who both requested the joint meeting, provided an overview of a consultant’s report on the state of the facilities and presented the two bodies with the Recreation Department’s related capital improvement requests.
Chiaradio Bowdy said the town has repeatedly paid for temporary repairs rather than committing to a long-term solution.
“My thing is I want this to get moving now ... because we’ve languished for over six years," she said. "As time goes on the issues are growing and the conditions are worsening and every year we are wasting tons of money, both in labor and materials, for fields that are beyond fixing, that need a major overhaul.”
Duhamel said he hoped some of the subcommittee’s ideas could be incorporated into the 2019-20 capital budget, but he also noted that the overall issue comes as officials are considering a proposed school building project.
Haik said his board sought the meeting as a means to enhance communication and to solicit direction from the two bodies.
“The toughest challenge in government is when is the right time ... I’m asking for some help from you guys to give us a plan financially on how we can take that next step,” Haik said.
The subcommittee will work with a report compiled by BCS Group, a regional company with offices in Glastonbury, Conn. The company studied the condition of eight of the town’s recreation fields and facilities and developed recommendations and cost estimates for improvements. The company found serious deficiencies at the eight facilities it studied and determined that three or four new youth fields and two larger natural grass rectangular multipurpose fields are needed, or a combination of new fields and converting existing fields to synthetic turf to meet demand.
The company recommended a complete rebuild of Westerly High School’s Augeri Field. The cost of a new natural turf field is estimated at $350,000 to $450,000, while synthetic turf would cost $850,000 to $1.3 million. A spreadsheet of proposed projects submitted by the Recreation Board that recommends synthetic turf be installed at both Augeri Field and the quad field at Westerly High School. The quad project carries an estimated cost of $1.4 million.
Haik said synthetic turf is needed as a way too to reduce the use of other fields or to occasionally rest fields. Just as youth leagues might use synthetic turf at the high school, Haik noted that school teams routinely use non-school fields.
The Recreation Board is exploring potential grants and fundraising strategies to help pay for the needed work, Haik said.