School Committee Approves Three Track and Field Options. More Funding to Be Sought


Athletic Fields, Amherst Regional High School and Amherst Regional Middle School. Photo: Chris Condit

Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee (RSC) directed Interim Superintendent Doug Slaughter to advance three options for the rebuilding of the high school track and field at their May 14, meeting. The committee had previously approved two options that would provide an eight lane track in its current location and either renovate or completely rebuild the interior grass field. Slaughter recommended that they add a third option that would rotate the track to a north-south orientation and provide a larger grass interior field. 

Kevin Fuselier of SLR Consulting provided refined cost estimates based on additional field data — such as determining that the asphalt underlying the track must be replaced — and recent bids for similar projects. The cost of the least expensive option (1B) is now estimated at nearly $1.9 million, but Fuselier expressed confidence that by scaling back some items such as fencing, and reducing contingency as designs are fine tuned, they could bring the project within the unrestricted funding the RSC currently has in hand ($1.77 million).

The second option (1D) would provide an entirely new interior grass field with new drainage, irrigation, and retrofitted LED lighting. The cost estimate for this option was $3.36 million, more than what SLR had predicted at their first presentation when they thought it would not exceed $3 million. 

Proposal for track and field design at Amherst Regional High School Option 1B. Photo: SLR
Proposal for track and field design at Amherst Regional High School Option 1D. Photo: SLR

The third option (3C) proposes a wider track and larger interior field in a North-South orientation. Slaughter emphasized to the RSC that rotating the track was part of an athletic facilities master plan developed in 2019 that envisioned a new softball field where the western half of the track is now. He said, “Some folks involved in the master planning process have looked and that reorientation of the field was a pretty critical component” noting that “with the north south orientation is some efficiency of field space so there’s opportunity to kind of get a little more playing space that’s more highly usable.” 

Proposal for track and field design at Amherst Regional High School Option 3C. Photo: SLR

This option would also require all new lighting and field event areas, and includes a concrete pad along the western edge where bleachers could be added as a future project. SLR estimated that this option would cost $4.23 million. This figure is significantly lower than what was presented two weeks ago ($4.8 million), a difference which Fuselier largely attributed to a decrease in contingencies from 20% to 15% with refined design.

Funding Sources
In addition to the $1.77 million in unrestricted funds, which is sufficient to pursue option 1B, restrictions could be lifted from $800,000 of previously-authorized Amherst Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, and $900,000 could be available in Free Cash from Amherst. These sources combined would be sufficient to enable Option 1D. Lifting restrictions would necessitate CPA committee and Town Council votes. Option 3C would require a new appropriation of $756,160, which Slaughter recommended the RSC request of the Amherst Town Council.

Some RSC members expressed concern about this additional request, particularly at this time. Irv Rhodes (Amherst) said “It makes us look as if we keep asking for funding that’s far and above that which is currently available from all sources. We’re asking the town to find the money somewhere to fund this while we’re already asking in the same breath for 6% (for regional school budget) and to say that those two will not be seen as the same I think is a fantasy.”

Bridget Hynes (Amherst) said, “We need sustainability for the schools. What if we use this three-quarters of a million dollars to have more sustainable operating budgets for the schools? I feel like it’s shortsighted to ask for the beautiful shiny thing on the hill. You’re not going to put on the addition when you’ve got cracks in your foundation.”

Jennifer Shiao (Amherst) and Anna Heard (Shutesbury) were also concerned about asking for the additional funding. Tilman Wolf (Leverett), William Sherr (Pelham), Sarabess Kenney (Pelham), Sarah Marshall (Amherst) and Deb Leonard (Amherst), however, argued in favor of the request. Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek advocated for asking for the additional funds, arguing that he expected town councilors to ask how much more it would cost to rotate to a north-south orientation. In response to a question from Shiao about whether they would also ask Pelham, Leverett, and Shutesbury for more funding, Slaughter said it would require the Towns’ calling another Town Meeting outside of their annual schedule. 

Marshall and Leonard questioned whether artificial turf should be reconsidered. However, Rhodes noted that “the amount of public participation that took place in relationship to artificial turf was astounding and to reopen that now again, that’s a wound. I just don’t think that’s wise for us to reopen.” Marshall acknowledged that even with the additional funds, it would not be enough for an artificial turf field in a North-South orientation. SLR added that permitting would be quicker with grass fields, allowing the RSC a little more time to pursue additional funding. Fusilier said that a decision in June on which option to pursue would still allow the project to be completed by the fall of 2025.

Ultimately, three motions were made and passed. Requests that the town of Amherst and CPA Committees lift restrictions were passed unanimously. A motion requesting that the Town of Amherst consider appropriating $756,000 for option 3C drew some opposition but ultimately passed 6-2-1, with Hynes and Rhodes voting against and Shiao abstaining. The final motion instructing the superintendent to proceed as possible with option 3C, 1D, or 1B based on available funding passed unanimously. 

The next steps are for Slaughter to bring the request to remove restrictions to the Amherst CPA Committee and then to the Amherst Town Council for authorization and the secondary appropriation. Depending on the outcome of those votes, option 1B, 1D, or 3C will proceed to permitting and design development with bidding anticipated in late 2024. If the bidding process is successful, the intention is to start construction next spring in order to have a track and field ready for use in fall 2025.

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4 thoughts on “School Committee Approves Three Track and Field Options. More Funding to Be Sought

  1. Does the amount of money that the RSC has in hand at this point include the funds raised by the Boosters Club? Do we have totals for how much money has been committed to that group? It is unclear from their website exactly how much money was actually in hand, and how many donors have withdrawn or affirmed their commitment to the project.

  2. Doug Slaughter’s surprise add of Option 3C to the mix this week seems tone deaf and unnecessarily complicated this meeting that could have been better spent on going through the budgets of the different options and looking for ways to reduce cost.

    The RSC has been working hard to get the four towns to agree to a $355,000 higher operating budget (2% more) in order to save critical educator positions in the middle and high school. As Bridget Hynes tried to convey to her colleagues, the reception from Amherst Town Councilors and the Town Manager has been less than encouraging. To now go to those same people and ask for yet another $756,000 for the track and field project seems ill-advised. They could just have the estimate for the larger reoriented project at the ready if/when asked without putting their hands out. It will be interesting to see what happens at the Town Council meeting on Monday…

  3. Sarah Marshall (Amherst) and Deb Leonard (Amherst) still stuck on artificial turf?? The science is in on artificial turf and continuing to use or promote it is wrong in so many ways.

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