Field house also on referendum for Durham and Middlefield

Field house also on referendum for Durham and Middlefield

Record-Journal
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Pipes for utilities stick up from an existing foundation near the Coginchaug Regional High School athletic complex. Durham and Middlefield voters will face a referendum on May 2 to build a field house with permanent bathrooms on the site. | Mark Dionne, Town Times

On Tuesday, May 2, when residents of Durham and Middlefield vote on the proposed 2017-2018 school budget, they will also face a referendum on funding the long-delayed field house project at Coginchaug Regional High School.

The second question at the polls will be to finance $800,000 for the design and construction of a building containing restrooms, a small referee’s room, and a small service closet. Other space within the proposed building will be empty because the Board of Education determined it is cheaper to use the larger foundation, already in place.

That foundation, originally installed in 2010, was designed for a building with bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and offices, but the district lacked the funds to complete that building when the athletic complex was built.

The Board of Education’s Education Resources Committee recommended building the shell with some functional rooms and other space left empty to save money.

The ERC proposed the project at $750,000, but the BOE increased it to $800,000 after determining that state law mandated market labor rates.

According to BOE Chair Bob Moore, estimated construction cost is about $600,000 with an additional $100,000 for contingencies, and another $100,000 for design, bonding, and advisor fees.

Several BOE members have noted that the district’s debt service payments are set to decrease in coming years.

At a public hearing on the project on March 30, Roger Kleeman of Durham noted that with financing the cost would be higher. Kleeman said, “When you go to referendum, you’re not voting on $800,000, you’re voting on a minimum of $900,000.”

Depending on rates, financed for ten years, the total cost would go above $900,000. Financed over twenty years, the cost would rise above $1,000,000.

Most of the sentiment expressed by the public at that public hearing was supportive of the project with parents of athletes and some athletes themselves speaking in favor of the new building.

Dave Lowry, member of the Middlefield Board of Finance and a father of district athletes, said, “Let the people vote and I actually think it will go through. I think it makes sense and it’s something that’s going to have to be done sooner or later so let it be sooner.”

The site plan was designed and approved with permanent bathrooms. Currently the district uses port-a-potties for events at the athletic complex.

Jennifer Keane, who works as a school psychologist at Memorial Middle School and is the parent of an athlete, said that the community has not followed through on the commitment to giving the students the athletic complex approved almost 10 years ago.

Jen Zettergren of Durham said, “In addition to the kind and wonderful people who live here, our school system is our greatest asset ... This is an investment in our school system.”

Several parents and one student referred to lights and the experience of playing under the lights, reflecting some existing confusion on the project. The referendum vote is only about the field house and permanent bathrooms. The project does not include lights.

According to an agreement following a lawsuit over the athletic complex, lights for night games can not be built until permanent bathrooms are installed. So while the field house project could be a pathway to night lights, it does not include lights.

Some noted that a complete complex would create a better host site for tournaments and a better experience for student athletes.

Several members of the public questioned if this was the best use of $800,000.

Martin French of Durham noted that the BOE could present a long list of items $800,000 would get. “Our school system is great because we spend our money in a responsible, educational way,” said French. “As much as I’d like to go there some Friday night ... I don’t think this is the year until we understand what they are going to do in Hartford.”

During the BOE’s meeting after the public hearing, member Bob Yamartino spoke for over 12 minutes in mostly prepared remarks.

Yamartino said that this year’s budget season has been about priorities and the field house referendum is “a decision about where we as a community place our priorities and values.

“To be very clear - the education of our children is among those things that I consider to be critical services. The field house decision for me falls into a quality of life decision with considerable financial implications.”

Yamartino noted that the district and both towns have given strict consideration to similar or smaller expenses this year.

“What would an additional $60,000 or $80,000 in STEAM funding ... look like for our students’ future?” Yamartino asked.

“This is going to come at the cost of other things,” noted BOE member Victor Friedrich.

The BOE members who expressed skepticism also said that voting to send the issue to referendum allowed the public to have their say.

The BOE voted to send the question to referendum, with Jeremy Renninghoff of Middlefield and Phil Augur of Durham voting against.

Some members of the public also expressed skepticism.

Rick Parmelee of Durham pointed out that the school was looking into bringing in out of district students in order to field a complete football program. “We’ve got to put some balance in our lives and priorities and this is not a priority in my life,” Parmelee said.

David Booth said as a coach he loved the idea of the Field House, but thought that things like math interventionists and IT staff were more important. “When this item is on the budget and you can’t get rid of it, you’re going to be making more cuts.”

Moore and other BOE members noted that the referendum was part of a process that would continue to be subject to bidding and review.


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