Pitting and patching dominate the surface of the Amherst High School track. Photo: Art Keene

Improvements to the High School track and fields will have to wait a few more years, due to the financial impacts of COVID-19.

At a Regional School Committee meeting on June 9th, Schools’ Director of Finance Doug Slaughter presented a draft letter he had written to the Community Preservation Act Committees of Amherst, Pelham, Leverett, and Shutesbury to withdraw the request to pay for the initial design and engineering of High School track and field improvements. He was seeking direction from the School Committee on whether to move forward with the withdrawal.

In the letter, Slaughter wrote that while the need to address the High School track and fields has not changed, the pandemic has significantly changed the economic environment. As a result, the preliminary work to evaluate the track surface and field orientation has not occurred. This was a critical first step to define the work for which CPA funds would be used, according to Slaughter.

The fiscal year 2021 (FY21) funding requests, which totalled $200,000 (Amherst’s portion was $157,500), were intended to cover about half of the cost of the design and engineering work. At the meeting on June 9th, Slaughter said the full cost of design and engineering was estimated at $400,000 – $500,000, and he had anticipated approaching the towns in FY22 for the balance.

An athletic facilities master plan by Weston & Sampson from June 2019 estimated the total cost of Phase 1 to range between $3.9 million and $6.2 million. Phase 1 included relocating and reconstructing the High School track and the multi-use field within it.

According to the letter, the evolving economic downturn will delay the ability of the Regional School District to undertake the second half of the design and engineering work, and the ability to fund the construction. In the meeting, Slaughter said it would be unfortunate if they were to receive the CPA funding from the towns this year and then not use it in a reasonable time frame. 

The School Committee supported withdrawing the request. Slaughter added, “we will probably have to revisit and reshape all of this as we see how things play out financially over the next couple of years.”

Read a previous Indy article on the state of the track and athletic fields here.

Close-up of the degraded surface of the Amherst High School Track. Photo: Art Keene
This sign, announcing the closure of athletic fields at Amherst Regional High School, was a common sight last spring. Photo: Art Keene
Amherst Regional High School Field Hockey Field, Spring 2019. Poor drainage often rendered the school’s athletic fields’s unusable. Photo: Frank Hein.
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