Bleachers, stadium lights are top priorities in new BOE proposal to update GHS’ Cardinal Stadium

March 18, 2019

GREENWICH — Greenwich High School’s Cardinal Stadium has substantial changes planned for the next three years, but the one update Board of Education members are determined to get into this fiscal year’s budget is fixing the worn-down, 40-year-old bleachers.

The school board will present a new $3.8 million proposal for the first phase of improvements to Cardinal Stadium, after the Board of Estimate and Taxation Budget Committee voted to reduce the initial $8.4 million request to $1.3 million this February.

The plan is the newest installment in a back-and-forth between the school board and the budget committee over how to divide up the massive project and how to fund it. The revised plan spreads work over three years, with the second and third phases for fiscal years 2020-21 and 2021-22 costing $6.4 million and $10 million, respectively.

The school board voted unanimously, with board member Peter Sherr absent, to amend its Cardinal Stadium proposal, which the budget committee hear Tuesday evening.

School board members contend Cardinal Stadium needs a total makeover, and quickly.

“It should be a show-piece for our town, and unfortunately, it is not,” board chair Peter Bernstein said.

In December, the BOE approved a $26 million capital budget for 2019-20, including $8.4 million for work on Cardinal Stadium, which included replacing the 40-year-old bleachers.

But the BET budget committee voted to reduce the request to $1.3 million, the amount estimated to replace the home bleachers. Bernstein said the figure would not cover the design or delivery of the new bleachers and the removal of the old ones. Further, the town would save money if it fixed both the home and away bleachers, he said.

The budget committee members also asked the school board to work with KG&D Architects — the firm that reviewed every building in Greenwich Public Schools and developed a 15-year master facilities plan to update them — to reorder the projects within the overal stadium redesign.

The resulting plan includes, in phase one: new home and away bleachers, a press box and elevator, electrical service and updates to “related roads and parking,” as well as money for a site plan approval, the administration of design and construction for the first phase and design for the second phase. The first phase includes two additions that were not in the original project: a temporary toilet facility and changes to the field’s lighting.

Currently, spectators can choose from one of about four portable toilets.

Finding bulbs that match the current lamps is becoming more difficult with the proliferation of LED bulbs, Bernstein said, adding that the lights will comply with the controversial agreement from 2003 restricting the use of stadium lights to 16 times a year.

Phase two includes relocating the tennis courts, modifying utilities, adding a new road and bridge, adding 74 parking spots, landscaping and site improvements, as well as funding for the design of phase three.

The final phase includes constructing a new building with bathrooms that are handicap-accessible, team rooms and athletic training center, a tennis building, a storage building and related landscape and site improvements.

“I think that it’s imperative to move forward even if we have to stretch it over three years,” board vice chair Jennifer Dayton said. “Every student will eventually benefit from the stadium.”

Cardinal Stadium is just the title of the project, architect Russ Davidson said. The project should be considered a partial redevelopment of the Greenwich High School campus, which could need more than $209 million in renovations over the next 15 years, his firm estimated last summer.

The improvements will add a second access to the school along Route One, 74 additional parking spaces, will ramp up fire and life safety, security and handicap access, he said.

But board member Gaetane Francis expressed some doubts about how the project is phased.

“If this is a back way of not making it happen, we need to find better way of using resources,” she said. “It’s crazy to spend time creating a plan only to have it fizzle and only do small piece of it.”

The Cardinal Stadium discussion at the BET level is not about the needs or wants of the town, it is about money management, a topic that Bernstein cautioned his board against weighing into.

The BET favors a three-phase project because it would spread spending across more years and reduce the spending this fiscal year, he said.

But by doing so, the town is stretching the project out and paying more money to complete it, Dayton countered.

Dividing the project into three phases increased the cost because some areas will be altered and then altered again in a later phase, according to the architect’s report. The third phase of the project is the most expensive and will experience the most cost escalation, he said.