HIGH SCHOOL TRACK AND FIELD DESIGN FUNDING APPROVED BY COUNCIL

Last week, the Indy reported on a letter that Schools’ Finance Director Doug Slaughter had drafted to send to Community Preservation Act Committees (CPACs) in the four towns of the Regional School District. The letter requested that CPA grant applications for high school track and field design and engineering work be withdrawn because of anticipated budget shortfalls related to COVID-19.

On June 15th, however, the Amherst Town Council approved a list of CPA-recommended grants that included $157,500 for the high school track design.

In his introduction, Finance Committee Chair Andy Steinberg said that CPAC had assured him all the projects were ready to move forward. A Council rule requiring two separate readings at different meetings was suspended in order to approve the CPA recommendations right away as the grantees purportedly wanted to begin work after July 1st.

Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke reported on an earlier discussion of the CPA grant list at the Community Resources Committee (a subcommittee of the Council) saying they recognized that most of the projects on the list have a “greater importance due to COVID” and that the high school track “is in very high use right now.” 

The requested funding, however, is for the first half of design and engineering work and would not result in any improvements to the track in the near term. 

Responding to an email from the Indy, Town Comptroller Sonia Aldrich said that the Town has not officially received a letter from the School department regarding the CPA funding and does not have plans to make changes until there is a dialog on the thought process behind it. 

According to the CPA report, any unallocated CPA funds for FY21 are placed in a general reserve for use for any CPA purpose later in FY21 or in future years. Aldrich wrote that if the Schools were to return the funding for the track and field design, “it would go back to the undesignated fund balance in the CPA fund which can eventually be appropriated for any CPA purpose.”  

According to the Community Preservation Coalition website, athletic field improvements are an allowable use of CPA funds except for acquiring artificial turf surface or large high school stadiums with fixed bleachers. A search of the CPA database shows that many school districts used CPA funds for a variety of recreation fields/equipment updates. The Community Field Master Plan on which the Amherst Regional track and field updates are based was funded partly by CPA funds.

The total cost of reorienting and reconstructing the high school track and central field is estimated to be between $3.9 and $6.2 million.

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