EAST HADDAM — The State of Connecticut’s Bond Commission is expected to vote next Thursday to approve a $1.4 million bond for an athletic complex at Nathan Hale-Ray High School.
The $1.4 million will account for just under half of the project’s proposed cost of $2.9 million, according to Marc Pisciotti, the chair of East Haddam’s Board of Education.
The proposed complex includes a 6-lane, full-oval track with eight sprint lanes, a soccer field, an area for throwing events, concession stand, restrooms and a storage area.
Pisciotti said that the town has one of “less than a handful” of high schools in the state that has a track-and-field program but does not have its own track. He said that track and field is a draw for the community.
“Over the past couple of years, it has really become like our most attended, uh, sports program,” Pisciotti told CT Examiner. “More and more people want to get involved in our track programs.”
In February 2021, the town hired the architectural firm CHA to design the complex, which will replace the existing soccer field. The board chose the least expensive of six design options, Joseph Spurgeon, Chairman of the East Haddam Schools Capital Improvements Building Committee, said at an October 13 meeting of the town’s Board of Finance.
The design will replace the existing natural grass field with artificial turf. Superintendent Brian Reas told CT Examiner that this would fix a longstanding drainage problem that makes the current field impossible to play on about half the time.
“That alone is very exciting, to have a field that’s really available to the kids,” said Reas.
The estimated cost of the project in October was $3.9 million, which has since dropped, Pisciotti told CT Examiner, after the committee eliminated a larger building for storage and concessions and some additional fencing and bleachers. He said that none of the changes “would interfere with the main project.”
Reas told CT Examiner that building a track had been part of the original plan when the high school was built in the early 1990s, but that budgeting issues prevented it from happening.
“There’s been kind of an understanding that someday we would finish that project,” he said. “And we’re approaching 30 years, so it’s exciting that we might be … finishing it.”
Pisciotti credited State Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, for his advocacy in obtaining the $1.4 million in state bonds toward the project. Needleman said he knew Pisciotti from when Pisciotti was a police lieutenant in the town of Essex, and that Pisciotti had been advocating for the students.
Needleman said that students at the high school contacted him and made an “impassioned plea” for a track. In October, he went to meet with the students in person.
“They have a good track team, and they just really felt that the facilities were inferior and they wanted new facilities,” said Needleman.
Gov. Ned Lamont, who is also the chair of the State Bond Commission, said in a statement that he was pleased to be able to partner with the town in funding the project.
“This state funding will help ensure that young people in East Haddam – and everyone in the community – have a location for their sports and athletic activities,” said Lamont.
In addition to the $1.4 million, the district has received $500,000 from the purple fund toward the complex, a trust fund that provides financial support for school projects.
Reas said that the Board of Finance needed to figure out the financing process for the remainder of the project cost, and the project would then have to go to referendum.
Pisciotti said that he would love to see the complex finished within the next year to year-and-a-half so that current freshman at the high school could use it before they graduate.
“Our kids are so excited now about the possibility,” said Pisciotti. “I mean like the whole high school, there’s this buzz going through it.”