Residents of all three Regional School Unit 5 towns would need to approve construction of a synthetic athletic field surrounded by an eight-lane track in a referendum vote, regardless of how the project is funded.
Fred Palmer, co-chairman of the steering committee for the Tri-Town Track and Field Project, said the committee received that legal opinion from the law firm of Drummond Woodsum at its last meeting, held on Aug. 6. The steering committee asked Drummond Woodsum, lawyers for RSU 5, to study the language of a $14.6 million bond passed by voters last fall to determine if money intended for improvement of the field could be used to install the synthetic field and track.
Three times, RSU 5 voters have defeated bonds to build a synthetic turf field and track to replace the grass field behind Freeport High School, so the Tri-Town Track and Field Project began looking into the possibility of private funding early this year. The group says that synthetic turf is much more durable, an important consideration because the grass field is used in the spring by two lacrosse teams and in the fall by two soccer teams. The estimated cost of the field and track is $2.5 million-$3 million.
"It would appear the state standards require that we go to referendum for approval of the expenditure of the turf field and track," said Fred Palmer, co-chairman of the steering committee. "It's important to note that this is still a private fundraising campaign."
The steering committee is seeking major donors, and also has talked about leveraging all or part of the $600,000 identified for improvement of the athletic field in the high school bond referendum.
Palmer said that the steering committee plans to have a draft of its plan for the project finalized by the time of its next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Aug. 20 at Freeport High School. The Tri-Town Track and Field Project, meanwhile, incorporated and applied for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
"Once the filing is made," Palmer said, "you can start taking donations."
Should the project go to referendum and pass, the Tri-Town Track and Field Project is in hopes that the turf field and track would be built out in the spring/summer of 2017. Lacrosse games would be played elsewhere that spring.
The $14.6 million high school renovation, meanwhile, is in the hands of the Freeport Project Review Board. The Project Review Board will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 12, to discuss approval of final plans for a site plan amendment, which includes a two-story addition and site alterations. The board could then vote on the site plan amendment.
Cliff Goodall, Project Review Board chairman, said Friday that should the synthetic field and track be approved by voters, the board would need to consider a different site plan amendment, which would be heard separately.
Further studies on drainage at the field would be necessary, because the synthetic surface is impervious, Goodall said.
"They would have to do quite a lot of stormwater drainage work," Goodall said.
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