LYME/OLD LYME — The Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously voted to walk back an Oct. 4 decision accepting a $427,000 bid for turf field and middle school soccer field bleachers. The bid was significantly in excess of the $140,000 originally budgeted for the project.
At the early October meeting, board members expressed shock at the higher price, but voted 5 to 3 with one abstention to accept the bid.
Board members Steve Wilson, Mary Powell-St. Louis and Chris Staab voted against the original appropriation. Laura Dean-Frazier abstained. Members Suzanne Thompson, Martha Shoemaker, Jason Kemp, Anna James and Jenn Miller voted in favor.
The board also voted unanimously to move $717,000 into the district’s undesignated fund to pay for installing the bleachers, as well as other projects.
Superintendent Ian Neviaser said Wednesday that after fielding concerns from the board on Oct. 4, the district returned to the engineering firm to argue the price. Neviaser said the district had decided to modify the plan for the construction, and rather than building the bleachers into the hillside, a retaining wall would allow the flat surface to be extended, and pre-manufactured bleachers to be installed on top.
“I personally think that’s a better idea just for watching the game too, because you’re at a higher vantage point. You’re not necessarily sitting even with the fence, trying to look through the fence,” he said.
Neviaser estimated that the change would save the district between $100,000 and $150,000, but emphasized those savings were a rough estimate.
On Wednesday, Jenn Miller told CT Examiner that she initially voted to go forward with the bleachers in October because that was what she thought was needed at the time.
“I don’t want people sitting on the fence or the grass,” she said. “I think an adequate sports facility needs to have seating for parents and bystanders.”
Miller said she thought the newly redesigned plan was better.
Martha Shoemaker told CT Examiner that she, like Miller, viewed the new plan as a better one that “could possibly produce savings.”
She said the bleachers were also important for safety, given that they “provide a degree of separation between the players and the spectators.”
Jason Kemp told CT Examiner that the bleachers had been a topic of discussion for the facilities committee for some time. He explained to CT Examiner that at the time of the initial vote he believed the price to be the lowest and best option.
Suzanne Thompson told CT Examiner that in retrospect she wished the board had tabled the issue in October rather than voted that night. But she said she thought the bleachers were necessary for the turf field — the district had invested in the field, she said, and it should be used to its full potential.
“I know a number of people thought, well, this was only going to be a practice field. Well, honestly, it’s going to be used [for] both school activities and after school activities. It’s not only a practice field, so it is a facility where you do need seats,” she said.
Thompson said she was glad the board had found a solution to move forward with the project at a lower cost.
“The whole point is, I think we need to have some form of bleachers. I was sorry to see how much they were going to cost in the earlier bid. So to be able to come back and go, wait, there’s a better solution — I want to hear it,” said Thompson.
In addition to changing the basic engineering of the bleachers, the new plan also reduces the number of seats from 200 to between 125 and 150, but Nevaiser said he didn’t anticipate a problem, given that current bleachers sat about 80 people and were rarely filled.
“Very few times have I seen those bleachers so packed that no one has room to sit,” said Neviaser.
The Board plans to consider new bids for the bleachers at its December meeting.
This story has been edited to include comments by Jason Kemp and to clarify the voting on the bleacher proposal which included separate votes to accept the bid and approve the funding