Rough shape of Amherst High School fields emerging as expensive problem

  • Sam Leonard, front right, of Amherst Regional, blocks Igor Lavrenchuk of Agawam on May 13 on the main field inside the track at Amherst Regional High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/11/2019 5:30:18 PM

AMHERST — A wet spring, inadequate maintenance and intense use of playing fields at Amherst Regional High School are making conditions less than ideal for sports teams and possibly even risky for student-athletes, according to some parents.

“The situation has gotten to unsafe for kids to play on the fields,” said Lisa Cain, an Amherst parent who brought her concerns about the conditions for her daughter’s field hockey team to a recent Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee meeting.

Without proper grooming, Cain said, field hockey matches can’t be scheduled. “Our kids basically couldn't play the sport,” she said.

“Parents are willing to help, and we're willing to do whatever we can,” said Amy Sweeting, who also has a daughter on the field hockey team.

They were among parents, coaches and students who brought their concerns directly to the committee at a late May meeting.

Superintendent Michael Morris said resolving the condition of the playing fields will have to be addressed by both school and town officials.

Leverett representative Kip Fonsh said addressing the issue is long overdue. “It's really time to step up and deal with the matter,” Fonsh said.

But how soon these problems can be fixed could depend on a completed report from consultants Weston & Sampson of Rocky Hill, Connecticut, who have provided the Amherst Center Recreation Working Group a preliminary cost estimate of $3.9 million to $6.2 million to repair the main high school field and build a new track.

The consultants have identified many unmet needs from years of neglect and lack of investment, with many fields now deemed to be in fair or poor condition.

Morris said the district is setting aside $130,000 for a capital stabilization fund so money will be available to begin work in the coming years.

Cain said Tuesday that the next step for the parents is sending a letter to the school committee stressing the urgency of addressing the issue. “If we don’t fix the fields by fall, our kids will have no place to play,” Cain said.

In the draft letter, the parents write that there should be contingencies, such as renting Smith College fields, playing more road games or using the football field.

“Obviously, we need to get creative about how the fall season is going to work if our fields are still as bad as they were last year,” the draft reads.

While the primary field of concern, inside the track, is owned by the regional school district, several of the fields high school athletes use are town owned, including those at Community and Ziomek fields, such as the baseball and softball diamonds and the football field.

Department of Public Works employees do the maintenance on all municipal and school fields, with the regional school district purchasing supplies and equipment related to this upkeep.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman told the Town Council at its June 3 meeting that what is facing the town and schools is how to the ​​improve the ​​​​​condition of the fields and how to maintain what already exists.

Although about $25,000 should be spent per field per year to maintain them, Bockelman said, the town and schools are not doing that.

He also explained that the agreement between the town and the region has mostly been quantified by a handshake, with former facilities director Ron Bohonowicz, who retired in October 2017, having good oversight of the field maintenance.

Now, it may be urgent to revisit how this oversight is handled, Bockelman said. “We are looking at how all of those services are provided," Bockelman said.

Part of the challenge, he said, is that the fields were not built that well, with some being constructed over agricultural fields without extensive irrigation or drainage.

In addition, field use has been identified as a concern. One suggestion is to have a shared calendar so the public, as well as town and school officials, know when each field is scheduled to be used, and to know who makes the decision on when a field is used and when it needs to be idle or taken offline entirely.

Another idea is to have fields that can be used more intensively, which Bockelman said normally means artificial turf.

The other issue raised by parents is an equity issue, with some noting that girls sports have been more affected by the condition of fields than boys sports. This was the case when a recent Ultimate tournament forced varsity girls lacrosse to cancel its games, after the team earlier had to use fields at the middle school.

Amherst representative Anastasia Ordonez said it is “particularly egregious” that girls are experiencing this. “It’s absolutely 100 percent an equity issue,” Ordonez said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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