Funding the future: School committee eyes Town Meeting for facility renovation vote

Jan 16, 2019

A $2 million request for new athletic fields at Old Rochester Regional High School will go before voters at Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester Town Meetings this spring.

Old Rochester Regional Facilities Subcommittee member Hal Rood told residents and tri-town officials on Jan. 14 that the $5 million project, originally proposed last year, has been reduced to $2 million.

Rood said overuse and poor drainage have haunted the athletic fields, causing conditions which pose safety risks for student athletes. 

“The reason we’re doing this isn’t for our kids,” Rood said. “It’s because we don’t want to see another generation of kids like ours have to be on that field and hope everything turns out okay — we want to set something in place for a generation.”

Rood said that the school’s track is at its “natural end of life,” and is showing signs of wear. The mounting facility issues, Rood said, could put the school in violation of Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association regulations. 

He added that the lighting system in the auditorium is also beginning to breakdown, causing about a third of the lights to malfunction. 

To address the mounting issues, the project will include an artificial turf field at the main stadium, new LED lights, a six-lane track, and replacing the auditorium lighting system.

In cooperation with the Facilities Subcommittee, the non-profit group Tri-Town Unified Recreational Facilities helped the school cut the price tag for the project by more than half. Tri-Town Unified Recreational Facilities also funded the design process through private donations. 

The average taxpayer can expect to pay an additional $19 in Marion, $15 in Mattapoisett and $23 in Rochester with a 25-year debt. Under a 10-year note, the average household in Marion would pay $31, $29 in Mattapoisett and $42 in Rochester.

Rood suggested that the project could be paid for with a debt exclusion vote, Community Preservation funds and private donations.

Marion Selectman Randy Parker suggested that the committee look into getting rebates for both the installation and purchase of new auditorium lights. Parker even extended and offer to help the committee find some of those rebates. 

Marion Selectman John Waterman asked the school committee what the plan was if the proposal is shot down on Town Meeting floor. 

“At the end of the season, our championship football team was treating the field like a slip-n-slide,” said board member Michelle Smith. “We’d just have to live with it until we get another chance to have the voters vote on it really.”

School committee chair Cary Humphrey expressed his support for the project. 

“I was elected to represent our students and parents,” said Humphrey. “I believe, as a part of this group, that this is a project that is well worth our support.”

Rood said that if the project is approved, the facilities committee hopes to break ground at some point this year, either this summer or toward the end of fall.