Lyme-Old Lyme School Board Pumps Another $327K into Costly Turf Field Project

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LYME/OLD LYME — The Board of Education voted narrowly on Wednesday to add $327,000 to its turf field project after it was revealed the original cost of the bleachers had tripled.

“It’s a whole combination of things that kind of fell at once — a perfect storm. But that’s what everybody’s paying, so I’m only afraid it’s going to go up,” Facilities Director Ron Turner said at the meeting. 

The district contracted with SLR International in June 2022 to design the bleachers, which were initially budgeted at $140,000 — $100,000 for the high school turf field and $40,000 for the middle school soccer field. 

But G. Donovan, the company the board hired to build the bleachers, priced the work at $427,000, or about $650 per seat. The bleachers would seat between 180 and 200 people. 

“The price is outrageous. Wow,” board member Laura Dean Frazier said. 

Board member Chris Staab asked if it’s possible to do preparatory work for the bleachers, and then see if prices drop. 

But Turner said he didn’t foresee prices decreasing. And Superintendent of Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Ian Neviaser cautioned that the original estimate may have been incorrect.  

“We might be hoping that it comes down when that might have been the price all along,” Neviaser said. 

Board member Martha Shoemaker noted that project costs had been increasing across the board due to post-COVID inflation, and that she didn’t anticipate them going down. 

“In the past three years that I’ve done purchasing — ever since COVID — the prices of metals have just kept going up,” Shoemaker said. 

The money will be taken from the district’s undesignated fund. Under state law, if a district has leftover money at the end of a school year, it is allowed to put aside up to 2 percent of its total budget in a fund meant for capital expenditures. Any remaining money is returned to the town. 

The board voted at its meeting to move $717,000 into the fund. Neviaser noted that putting the money into the undesignated fund would allow the district to pay for upcoming projects without having to add them into the budget. Those include replacing the high school storage building, demolishing the portable classrooms at Center School and installing the bleachers. 

To recoup some of the costs, Shoemaker asked if they could increase the $500 fee the district charges groups to rent the turf field. But Neviaser said there is little interest from people outside of the school or local community. The district has so far made about $3,000 from renting out the field. 

Three board members — Steve Wilson, Mary Powell St. Louis and Chris Staab — voted against the additional appropriation, while Frazier abstained, saying she was torn. 

“I have to tell you, this horrifies me,” Wilson said. “This is a quarter or a fifth of the cost of the whole turf field. And then we do this, and then … next week it’s going to be the lights, and pretty soon it’s going to be a $10 million turf field.” 

Turner said the bleachers would likely not be ready until spring due to manufacturing delays, and noted other organizations were purchasing temporary bleachers for the fall sports season.

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.