More than $3 million on athletic facilities could be spent in Lyme-Old Lyme

LYME – OLD LYME New tennis courts, a pending turf field installation and the coming renovation of the elementary and middle schools are planned for Lyme-Old Lyme schools in the next five years.

The needed high school tennis court renovations with bleachers and a windscreen will cost the school district $571,360, according to the latest design.

“We are going out to bid the beginning of January and will hopefully be bringing bids to the February meeting,” said John Rhodes, facilities director for Lyme-Old Lyme. Rhodes, who is retiring at the end of the school year, said, “I hope to be here when we choose the bidder.”

The project will be paid for out of the school district’s annual budget. One court from the 2019-2020 budget and one from the 2020-2021 budget to stagger the cost.

“The wetlands commission approved the courts in one meeting with hardly any questions,” Rhodes said. “They even allowed us to put a grass buffer on the west side of the courts in order to make access there easier.”

Unlike the tennis courts, the proposed multipurpose turf field installation – which is estimated to cost between $2 and $3 million by the design firm Milone and Macbroom – would be paid for out of the district’s undesignated fund, a fund that is slated for capital improvement projects only.

For more than a decade, each year the school district has transferred up to one percent of the annual budget into the fund designated for future projects. Prior projects have included roof replacements, new windows and other building-related infrastructure, Rhodes said. The potential turf field would be the first time the fund is used for major athletic renovations.

“Some of the push back around the field is, why aren’t you using the fund for the tennis courts, the floors, the Lyme Consolidated air conditioning,” said Andy Russell, chair of the Board of Finance in Old Lyme and member of the Region 18 facilities and finance committee. “Why up to $4 million on athletic fields,” Russell asked citing a higher final cost.

The Facilities and Finance Committee, Rhodes and superintendent Ian Neviaser have discussed, for more than two years, the installation of a multipurpose athletic field at Lyme-Old Lyme High School for what officials say is an effort to open up more all-weather field space and to reduce the impact of water shortages impacting the sports fields each summer.

“We haven’t dipped into this [undesignated fund] for a while because of the fact that we have been planning on this project,” Rhodes said.

The proposed construction of the turf field is planned to begin in two years, at the earliest.. According to the five-year facilities draft plan for Lyme-Old Lyme, just a year or two later – in 2023 – the renovations of the district’s three elementary schools and middle school will begin and the debt service from the previous renovations will end.

Renovation of the four buildings is projected to cost $15 million and will likely be completed in  phases.

“We definitely do not want to do two schools at one time,” Rhodes said.

At previous facilities and finance meetings concern over whether or not the town residents will support a turf project in addition to school renovations was voiced.

“Although the debt service will go down for the district, in terms of our towns we will be paying more in debt service,” Russell said. “So, it might make it tough for the people paying the taxes.”

Rhodes explained that the athletic field renovations have been saved for last. They have been the lowest priority compared to a high school renovation and maintenance repairs to school buildings.

“We really have managed our buildings well, we have taken care of our fields last,” Rhodes said.

Other projects expected in the next five years include replacement of all district microphones, receivers and amplifiers due to T-mobile’s purchase of the frequency the schools currently use, an estimated $30,000 project. In addition, the gym floor and air-conditioning at Lyme Consolidated school will be replaced next year and all three elementary school playgrounds will be renovated. 

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