Recent visitors to the Surf Club will have noticed significant construction over the last few months as contractors work to build the Strong Center field houses. With fall football season now in full swing, those involved with the project say construction is on budget and mainly on time.
At the Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting on Sept. 11, Duo Dickinson, a Strong Center Project Board member and the architect for the project, and Rob Russo, a civil engineer with the town Engineering Department, discussed the status of the project and what has yet to be completed.
The center, which has been in the works for years, is designed to serve as a football field for high school and potentially college games, as well as soccer, lacrosse, and softball. It is also envisioned as a performance arts facility for music, theater, and dance.
Project construction was broken out into two phases. Phase I of the project included the replacement of the former grass football field with an artificial turf field and installation of the scoreboard, flagpoles, lighting, and bleachers with seating for 2,000. Phase II of the project includes a planned plaza and two field houses. The entrance plaza will include a gate; three stone pillars for gold, silver, and bronze sponsor plaques; and 325 engraved granite plaza stones. Additionally the site will include several park benches, a Champions Walk from the home field house to the field, and a memorial garden.
Phase II of the project was held up as the town struggled to secure a contractor. Back in 2016, the town secured a Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant for $500,000 to complete the field houses and went out to bid for a contractor. With the money for the project coming in the form of a state grant, the state requires contractors must meet standards ranging from insurance to minimum labor rates. First Selectman Tom Banisch said previously there was only one bid on the project and in March, the town decided the contractor could not complete the project.
In total, the field house project went through three rounds of bidding before the BOS formally awarded the contract of $481,024 to Pat Munger Construction Co., Inc., in late April 2017.
Dickinson said Munger has been working on the field houses for close to three months now. Dickinson said the contractor assigned to construct the terrace has been green lit to start in early November, which means the majority of field house construction will be complete by that time.
“They are pretty much on schedule and the coolest thing ever is going to be in a week or so when a crane will come and lift the two cupolas and drop them on top of the two field houses,” he said. “It will be fun to see that.”
Russo said the last big items are the utilities including water, septic, and pulling conduit for electrical wiring. He said Comcast has donated services to the project and he expects to see all utility work coming together in the next couple of weeks. As to when the field houses will be complete, Dickinson joked that he wanted to see it all done four years ago.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we couldn’t maybe do tours of the building at the last game or something like that,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with the utilities, but I think the buildings themselves will be done in six weeks or something like that.”
As construction progresses, Dickinson said the Strong Center board is continuing to fundraise, looking for around $30,000 to $50,000 to complete all of the planned elements of the project. Dickinson said the community has been generous in supporting this project, noting there have been more than $400,000 of in-kind services donated as well as more than $1 million in citizen donations.
“We are totally on budget, we are basically on schedule…and we are very close to having the money we need to finish the project,” Dickinson said. “If anybody out there wants to have their name on something, please give us money and we will be there.”