Old Saybrook High School Turf Field and neighboring houses (CT Examiner/Werth)

Residents Deserve a Vote

There is no rule requiring that the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education win the approval of local residents before committing them to plans for a new multimillion-dollar sports field.

The nine-member board could vote on the project as soon as Wednesday.

In fact, school Superintendent Ian Neviaser, with the support of the board, has been salting away money for the project – to the tune of $2,107,873 — in an “undesignated” fund for years.

Clearly, in the short term at least, the cost of the field is unlikely to explode budgets.

But whether this amounts to fiscal prudence or fiscal sleight of hand is, I suppose, a matter of perspective.

As Board of Finance Chair Andy Russell, explained it at a December 5, 2019 meeting, “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.”

And indeed, starting in 2023, as the district pays down its existing debts, it faces an estimated $15 million dollars of costs for planned renovations of the district’s three elementary schools and middle school.

You wouldn’t be entirely remiss in thinking that board members are, in effect, celebrating that last car payment with a quick trip over to Reynolds – the sort of spending that local taxpayers might not notice, but that falls somewhat short of respect for the public’s money.

So, at what cost?

Project engineers Milone & MacBroom have estimated the cost of the fields without any “extras” – without lights, or stands, or press box – at $2,101,500.

But estimates for maintenance and longevity have been at times wildly inconsistent.

The current estimate on the district’s ‘informational’ website states that “synthetic fields do not require any maintenance and generally last for at least 15 years before requiring a resurfacing of the top layer,” while in a December 2019 presentation, Milone & MacBroom estimated that the “lower maintenance costs” would be “offset by replacement cost in 10 to 12 years.”

We’ve heard that the field could be guaranteed for as little as eight years and we’ve heard at least one board member claim an expected lifespan of 20.

A little clarity would help.

And as far as timing goes?

Certainly, at a time when a great many families, businesses – and the entire state government – face extraordinary financial difficulties, it’s hard not to think of a $2+ million turf field as an obscenity.

Certainly, many of our readers outside of Old Lyme will think so. But then, I suppose many of those readers live in districts with a turf field already.

At the very least, it would be good know just how much the district is expecting to be reimbursed for COVID-related expenses – particularly given the likely return to austerity at the federal level.

No doubt, the least impressive response to “why now?” – given that board members are locking taxpayers into a cycle of maintenance and replacement costs – is because the costs will only be higher in the future.

But, in the end, Old Lyme can no doubt afford it. Whether it should? That’s a question better left to local residents and a vote.

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