AP NEWS

Just the bleachers or the whole stadium? Greenwich debates scope of project

March 20, 2019

GREENWICH — Fixing the bleachers at the Greenwich High School Cardinal Stadium is a priority of the Board of Education in the upcoming fiscal year — a project that could kick start a complete redesign of the stadium and adjacent athletic facilities and cost more than $20 million.

The overall price tag could be covered in part through a proposed partnership with the Greenwich Athletic Foundation, which would fund-raise money to flow back into the town general fund.

But first, the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the BOE must agree on the scope of the project and the price to redo the stadium. School board members say the project is badly needs because safety, civil rights and improved conditions for spectators and athletes are at stake.

The school board returned to the BET Budget Committee on Tuesday with a $3.8 million request and a plan for a three-phase project. The Budget Committee had recommended lowering the BOE’s initial $8 million request for a two-year stadium project to just $1.3 million to fix only the bleachers.

One BET budget committee member compared approving the first, and cheapest, phase to biting into a rich dessert only to realize that eating the whole slice would require a few Tums.

“It’s a more ambitious plan than what we were hoping to see,” Jeff Ramer said. “If we’re not careful ... it could become a six-year project.”

In an earlier meeting, BET Budget Committee members also requested the school board re-evaluate the scope of the project.

The school board returned with KG&D architect Russ Davidson — a member of the firm that reviewed every building in Greenwich Public Schools and developed a 15-year master facilities plan to update them — with a new draft that divided the stadium project into three phases, and requested $3.8 million for phase one, $6 million for phase two and $10 million for phase three.

The plan would include, 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 would also include two additions not in the original project: a temporary toilet facility and changes to the field’s lighting.

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

The final phase would include 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.

Each phase of the redesign of Cardinal Stadium and its adjacent facilities is designed to stand alone so that the project could stop after any phase and remain usable, Davidson said.

Phase one has two additions the BET Budget Committee had not seen before: a handicap-accessible temporary toilet facility with four stalls and new light fixtures on the poles, which still would comply with the controversial agreement from 2003 restricting the use of stadium lights to 16 times a year.

The stadium is difficult to access. People in wheelchairs must ride there in golf carts, but must go back to the high school campus for bathrooms because the temporary toilets at the fields are not accessible, school board chair Peter Bernstein said. Moving the bleachers forward would create parking spaces for handicap-permitted vehicles.

The lights also need updating, because the bulbs are becoming increasingly difficult to replace, he said.

But the project is not just about the bleachers, Bernstein and Davidson told the BET budget committee members. They said it would improve the safety and decrease traffic by providing a second access to the campus from Route 1 and ramping up fire and life safety, security and handicap access.

“I’m disappointed that that’s the tenor for the conversation,” Bernstein said. “We come with a plan to fix the facility, and what we’re hearing is ‘the bleachers, the bleachers.’”

Adding new bleachers would require digging four to five feet deep for the installation and moving the structure forward by 20 feet, Bernstein has said. Changing the position of the bleachers would require a Municipal Improvement request.

Ramer disputed the characterization of the conversation as being only about the bleachers. He also said the budget committee was open to more numbers than just the “soft” $1.3 million price tag they suggested for fixing the bleachers.

Rather than re-evaluating the scope of the project, the school board stuck with its original plan and just divided it into phases, Ramer said.

“I’m seeing a lot of affection for (this option),” he said. “What I’m not getting is other options.”

That is because a lot of thought has gone into the project, Bernstein said.

“Our ask is to fund this as planned,” he said. “Your job is to decide how to finance that.”

So the BET Budget Committee requested the school board and the architect break-down the $3.8 million request by “logical break points” by Monday.

BET Budget Committee Chair Leslie Moriarty expressed readiness to approve phase one.

“I’m there,” she said. But as for phase two, “I’m not there yet.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com