Friday, January 22, 2021

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Region 4 Gets Report on Upcoming Field Maintenance Needs, Possibility of Future Expansion

The results of a fields and grounds survey, conducted over the summer at John Winthrop Middle School (JWMS) and Valley Regional High School (VRHS), revealed the conditions of certain facilities at these sites and assessed the potential use for two district-owned properties on either side of the high school.

Landscape architects Michael Kluchman and Jesse Harris of the BSC Group presented the findings at a recent meeting of the Region 4 (R4) Board of Education (BOE). They also solicited feedback from an ad hoc committee of community stakeholders, at its first meeting on Nov. 18.

The ad hoc committee is charged with providing input on a final report of the survey that will be submitted to the R4 BOE on Dec. 15.

Conditions at JWMS and VRHS

Harris said that at JWMS, gravel strips used to catch surface water from athletic fields are “filling in with silt and vegetation, which is going to start prohibiting its drainage. And from what we’ve heard, there is already poor drainage out there, so it’s probably already contributing to that.”

There is also “poor infield conditions. Some of that I believe is due to lack of maintenance because of the COVID shut down for sports in the spring, and then resources were pulled to other tasks instead of maintaining the fields,” he said.

The survey also found that some fields lacked formal spectator seating and that the turf grass had been improperly maintained.

“We understand the district has hired out resources for that [turf grass] and they have been on a treatment program and things have improved pretty well lately, but there is still a long way to go in terms of getting the grass stands in good shape,” said Harris.

Findings from the survey at the high school included identification of certain areas that lacked compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, poor turf conditions, and fencing and amenities described as “fair,” among some safety concerns.

“The cracks on the tennis courts, they’re running right across the inbound areas, which isn’t great for safety or playability, and that’s very typical across all six courts,” said Harris.

The eight-lane running track, with patching and delamination around the edges, “is starting to show its age, getting up there around the 25-year mark,” he said. “Our understanding is that it’s been resurfaced, but it’s definitely due for that again.”

Mislick and Falls Landing Properties

The approximate nine-acre parcel of district-owned property on the west side of Falls Landing Road was also assessed by BSC group. The property is zoned low-density residential.

In analyzing the topography of this parcel for athletic use, Harris said, “it’s just not conducive in terms of its size and shape, but also…it’s quite steep, its slope. And as you can imagine, if you try to put…a flat playing field on a 20-percent slope, it’s basically impossible.”

If the district determined that additional athletic facilities were needed, portions of the 38-acre Mislick property, also zoned low density residential, have the potential, according to Harris.

The first option, said Harris, could be to put a new soccer or multi-use field on the property with dedicated on-site parking, and potentially a cross-country trail or a walking trail for community use.

“Option two is, could we fit two fields in there and really maximize this lower portion of the property, keep the cross country trail throughout, and then just get a little bit more facilities, maybe pull some of that demand off of the middle school, move some of the demand from the high school to these facilities,” said Harris.

The site’s topography is not conducive to “one big level plain, so we’ll have to terrace the site to get those to work,” he added.

Among several discussion items by members at the ad hoc committee’s Nov. 18 meeting, was the Mislick property’s value as a community asset and possible scenarios for its use.

R4 BOE member Paula Weglarz stressed the need to include the community in any decisions that are made with the property.

“We have to be very careful what we do or don’t do with it going forward and I think we need to be very, very open and transparent about that when we get there,” said Weglarz.

Prioritizing Projects

There was also discussion at the ad hoc committee meeting regarding a need to understand the costs associated with any of the work to repair, improve, or expand facilities.

Superintendent of Schools Brian White said that the timing of these conversations related to the survey was purposefully done prior to budget season and that bonding might be a way to accomplish some of the larger items.

“We recognize that there could be implications for next year’s operational planning,” said White. “There is probably some short-term needs that we need to be thoughtful about and in terms of any larger scale needs, being able to identify those priorities and coming up with the phasing, so that either through our capital plan…or potentially through a bond, in time, we would at least have a plan of attack to address all of these areas of need.”

R4 BOE member Lori Ann Clymas also recognized the need to be strategic in any decisions related to the survey.

“We really need to make sure we make smart decisions in the short term and then plan for the long term, whether it’s two or three years from now with a bond or not a bond,” Clymas said. “I mean, sports are very important to our communities and to the education of these kids.”

The final ad hoc committee meeting on the fields and grounds survey is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 2 at 6 p.m.

Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at

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