Broken lights, decaying athletic fields reignite school renovation plans

Dec 5, 2018

MATTAPOISETT — In a packed room on Dec. 5, with dozens of parents in attendance, the Old Rochester Regional School Committee laid out plans to overhaul Old Rochester Regional High School’s deteriorating auditorium and athletic fields.

Though committee members generally favored upgrades, they could reach a consensus on both the timeline and the cost of the potential project. 

T.U.R.F. (Tri-Town Unified Recreational Facilities, Inc.), a nonprofit formed by tri-town residents in 2015, initially planned a $5 million project that would include two synthetic turf fields, a new track, two new grass fields, an athletic building with a concession stand, storage and bathrooms.

Last year, T.U.R.F. asked Marion, Mattapoisett, and Rochester officials for $1.67 million per town to cover expenses. But some officials were concerned about the steep price tag, so school representatives and T.U.R.F. members began exploring cheaper options.

Old Rochester Regional Superintendent Douglas White said the plans would need to be approved during Town Meeting, and a potential ballot vote for the funding.

During a Wednesday night Old Rochester Regional School Committee meeting, members suggested that a multi-phase project focusing on high-priority upgrades was the most financially feasible option.

“It’s a scaled down version of the original, but it meets a lot of the needs that we have,” said Vice Chair Cary Humphrey.

Among a myriad of projects slated for improvement over the next few years, the track and field deserve immediate attention. The auditorium lighting and sound system was also identified as an area in need of upgrades. 

“We have an award winning drama club that has put on fantastic plays for years, and they deserve upgrades as well,” said Humphrey.

Chair Tina Rood added that the lights on the right side of the stage are mostly broken and need to be replaced.

The cost for such upgrades is currently estimated at about $2 million, but a final proposal will be presented to the school committee in January.

Once progress begins on these critical elements, the T.U.R.F group will work on fundraising for the second part of the project, which will look to fix the back fields, where the field hockey team plays. 

Representatives noted the cost per town could be reduced through these fundraising efforts, as well as  payments from youth and amateur leagues, which have expressed interest in using the fields.

According to T.U.R.F. Board President Tom Flynn, there has already been over $100,000 in donations and pledges.

The piecemeal renovation plan did not appeal to everybody, however, and some expressed an interest in the $5 million plan.

“This in my view is a bare minimum,” said committee member Heather Burke. “But I want to make sure we’re not missing the opportunity to really give back to this community by improving these recreation facilities.”

Burke conceded that the cheaper plan is “better than nothing” and urged board members continue to push for the improvements.

Humphrey said he understood the concern but added that the $5 million price would have difficulty passing at Town Meeting.  Regardless of the approach or the price tag, it was unanimous that the renovations are necessary for both the school and the tri-town.

“This project is not necessarily for the kids that are year today, it’s for the kids that are going to be here in the future,” said Humphrey.

Meeting attendee Justin Shay thought that the proposal was well put together.

“The committee has done a great job in getting a great, cost effective proposal. I tend to agree with Heather about the size — we need to decide to invest more. But I have to trust the judgement of those that could meet with the finance committee about what those numbers mean for the town,” Justin Shay said on Thursday.

He believes the result will be most effective if more people participate.

“I encourage everyone to get involved. It’s an investment in the school, community and kids,” Shay added.

Mark Tenerowicz agreed with Burke as well and felt that the multi-part proposal was “too conservative.” He also felt that it would have been easier for audience members to understand the financial commitment if it were broken down, rather than presented in millions of dollars.

“The critical piece that is missing is how much this will come to per household. When you say $2 million it scares people, but $48 per year for 20 years isn’t as scary,” Tenerowicz said on Thursday. 

Though the project won’t have much impact on Tenerowicz’s kids, he is still an advocate for fixing the fields.

Speaking on Thursday, Diane Hartley said a similar proposal to update the fields was brought up 10 or 12 years ago, and she does not know why it was not pursued at the time. She has also seen the impact on the fields over time.

“My son is a senior and has played varsity soccer for four years. We have seen the field deteriorate over the last four years,” she said.

Hartley liked the way that the project is organized, and only had one request.

“I am good friends with the people who have spearheaded this project. We all have kids who play sports or do drama, or both. I was glad to hear that the auditorium was a part of the plan,” said Hartley. “I only asked after the meeting that they make a proposal public before the January meeting so that people can look over it.”