Work on new track and field at Amherst Regional HS could begin in spring

  • A runner finishes his work out at the Amherst Regional High School track last year. The school committee is considering three options for new track and interior field work. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/21/2022 1:47:49 PM
Modified: 1/21/2022 1:46:43 PM

AMHERST — A deteriorating track, and a playing field in poor condition inside it at Amherst Regional High School, has made it difficult for the district to host interscholastic competitions.

After about a decade of discussions involving school officials and the athletic director, and a feasibility study completed in fall 2018 by a Connecticut company, a multi-year project to rebuild the track and field may be ready to move forward this spring, with possible funding approval to be sought in the four towns that make up the region.

Finance Director Doug Slaughter this week presented the Amherst Regional School Committee an outline of three plans being considered, ranging in cost from $1.2 million to $4.65 million.

“The track is desperately in need of resurfacing and the interior field has some needs, as well,” Slaughter said.

The latex-covered asphalt track was built in 1999.

Slaughter added that a project would benefit all outdoor school athletics by having “thoughtful implementation of fields within space we have available.”

Superintendent Michael Morris said the existing track and field are deemed unsafe by some for competition, and the field doesn’t adequately support the games or practices for soccer, field hockey and other sports.

Under the most basic plan, the track would be repaired and the field would be improved. The second and third plans are more elaborate, including putting the track into a new north-south orientation and rebuilding the field, either with grass or a synthetic surface.

Whatever plan is pursued, members of the School Committee indicated something has to be done.

Amherst representative Peter Demling said urgency demands action. “It’s a clear need we’ve known for years that impacts student safety,” Demling said.

The playing field is not adequate for teams and will only continue to get worse from overuse, said Pelham representative Margaret Stancer. “The fact (is) that we have one field that everybody has to practice on and then compete on,” Stancer said.

Accessible seating is possible under the more extensive plans, said Shutesbury representative Steve Sullivan. “That’s one of the big reasons for flipping it,” Sullivan said.

Public comment also favored taking action, with the Amherst Hurricane Athletic Boosters, Inc., whose president is Mary G. Klaes, writing that it is willing to assist financially.

“Our school district has many student-athletes that deserve the best in facilities and the current fields and track are not safe,” the group wrote.

“A wider track would allow for more varied competition, including summer track meets for the community,” wrote Leverett resident William Stewart. “A turf field would allow teams to practice through wet springs (falls, winters, and summers) with significantly decreased risk of injury to players.”

One of the questions looming is how to pay for the project, and whether Amherst should provide more money proportionally than other towns because the track is located near town center, and is an amenity residents can enjoy when not being used by the school.

If using the regional assessment formula, Amherst would pay almost 79%, with the other contributing less than 8.5%.

Under the least expensive option, Amherst would pay $947,880, Leverett $101,400, Shutesbury $84,840 and Pelham $65,880. Under the most expensive option, Amherst would pay $3.67 million, Leverett $392,925, Shutesbury $328,755 and Pelham $255,285.

Slaughter said he could also conceive a plan where Amherst pays one-third of the cost directly, one-third is paid from the Community Preservation Act accounts in the communities and one-third comes by the regional assessment methods. That would leave Amherst with about 86% of the cost and reduce the burden on the other communities.

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

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