Funding will limit ARHS track/field makeover to cheapest option

The Amherst Regional High School varsity athletic field and six-lane track.

The Amherst Regional High School varsity athletic field and six-lane track. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-06-2024 5:10 PM

AMHERST — Widening the existing track from six to eight lanes and rejuvenating the interior grass field appears to be the extent of renovations that can be done to Amherst Regional High School’s track and field because of limited funding.

While the Amherst Regional School Committee took no vote last week on the track and field project, members learned that only up to $3.47 million is available from the four member towns combined with private fundraising from the Hurricane Boosters. That means that only the least expensive option, a $1.76 million project that maintains the east-west orientation and adds two lanes, is affordable, based on cost estimates provided by SLR Consulting of Agawam.

A more elaborate and more expensive project would depend on the Amherst Town Council and Amherst Community Preservation Act Committee taking votes to amend restrictions on how $1.7 million in CPA money and free cash is used. Currently, that money can only be used if the track and field is reoriented to a north-south direction and a synthetic field surface is installed. But there is insufficient money for that type of project, with cost estimates ranging from $4.58 million to $5.4 million.

Kevin Fuselier, principal landscape architect for SLR, said his company needs to know which project is being pursued by late May so that construction can begin in June 2025. “We need to advance preliminary design so we can start the permitting process,” Fuselier said.

“We really need to understand the budget that we want to design to,” SLR principal Mark Arigoni said.

Amherst representative Irv Rhodes agreed that a final decision has to come soon. “We can’t kick the can down the road any further,” Rhodes said.

Leverett representative Tilman Wolf said only the less expensive project can be pursued, and that, based on comments he’s heard, it’s time to stop disadvantaging high school athletes and get the project underway. “There’s nothing else we can do,” Wolf said.

Amherst representative Bridget Hynes said more money can’t be sought from the member towns. “I very much want to see the best track that we can all go to and cheer on our teams, but I’m worried that asking more of the towns is going to put us in a very bad position,” Hynes said.

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Interim Superintendent Douglas Slaughter said that a home track meet hasn’t been held since 2018 due to the poor condition of the track. “Any facility is better than the current facility — anything will be an improvement and will be really beneficial to our student athletes,” Slaughter said.

But Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said the project has to be about both the track and the field, based on feedback coming from the community over the past decade. “That field in the middle is substandard. It has been called dangerous. We have had many injuries there. We must do the maximum we can in that field,” Ziomek said.

He encouraged the Regional School Committee to ask the Town Council to make adjustments to its free cash and CPA appropriations rules so the best project possible can be done.

Rhodes, though, said he isn’t sure those decisions can be made quickly by town leaders. “Given the politics of it, it might be pure fantasy,” Rhodes said.

The cheapest plan, in addition to adding two lanes, rejuvenates the existing grass field through rototilling and adding amendments to the soil. “It really is our most economical option that we’re looking at at the moment,” Fuselier said.

Arigoni said routine maintenance will be necessary if grass is used. “If you’re going to go natural grass, great, but you’ve got to maintain it,” Arigoni said.

SLR’s work has included a wetlands delineation, soil sampling using hand augers and a geotechnical analysis, with more in-depth test pits and borings to be done once spring sports season is over. This will allow the consultants to understand how groundwater infiltrates the track and field and complete an ongoing analysis of the Tan Brook culvert and how drains are managing the water below the track and field.

“In our explorations we have discovered a very high groundwater table,” Fuselier said.

The more expensive options would have the eight-lane track, a configuration that increases the size of the interior field and possibly uses synthetic turf.

New lighting and accessibility improvements would be done under any plan.

Student representative Miguel Pinero-Jacome said he has run track for four years and not having home meets has been humiliating.

“If we’re putting in all this effort do this, I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t go, or didn’t try to go, all the way for (the) eight-lane track,” Pinero-Jacome said.

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