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BETHEL Battling for turf on school fields

September 19, 2018

BETHEL — After rain poured down Tuesday on the district’s grass fields, varsity athletes were forced to practice in the gym, while some junior varsity and freshman teams canceled.

But if Bethel had a turf field, the rain would not have been a problem, said Mark Caron, athletic director. Students could have practiced outside like their peers in all other local school districts with access to turf.

“Days like [Tuesday] we really feel it,” Caron said. “The athletics program is suffering because they don’t have a place for an all-weather field.”

This is among the reasons supporters are kicking up efforts to raise money to install organic turf — made from all natural materials — rather than crumb-rubber at DeSantis Field at the high school.

The All Sports Booster Club, with help from the athletic department, is seeking sponsorships from residents and businesses for the turf. The high school is also planning an event in November with Ingersoll Auto, where the company will donate money for every person who test drives a car.

Greg Correard, a member of the All Sports Booster Club, said students would benefit from access to the field, while the community would enjoy night games on Fridays and Saturdays.

“You’ve got a field that theoretically could be used 24/7,” he said. “You don’t need to worry about the wear issues of wearing out the grass.”

The booster club has not set a fundraising goal, but the turf alone would cost around $750,000.

Caron said it is unlikely the community could raise the full $750,000 but said the district would likely ask the town to cover the rest.

“Our hope is to show the town we’re vested in this and hopefully they’ll see that,” he said. “The town sees the need. They’re just worried about the up front cost.”

Residents had pushed for $979,000 to be added to this year’s capital budget for the project, but voters ultimately rejected the plan. This amount would have included the cost to resurface the track, which needs to be done soon.

The requirement to resurface the track every 10 years puts the town under a deadline. Installing turf would damage the track, so the projects should be done simultaneously.

Correard said the town also needs to move quickly so the cost of the project does not rise. The booster club has received a bid for the turf, but will likely be unable to hold the bid past the end of the calendar year, he said.

First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker said Bethel could hold a town meeting to approve the money before the end of the year.

“I see that as being well within the realm of possibility,” he said.

Caron said it is more likely the project would go to the town in the spring, at the earliest.

Sponsorship opportunities range from a $10 donation to $5,000 for a press box sponsor. Donors will earn various perks, such as recognition in school newsletters or signs in the stadium or press box.

Knickerbocker applauded the residents’ efforts to raise the money, noting other improvements to recreational facilities, such as the baseball field at Mitchell Park, started because of fundraising.

“It’s a good way to get the ball rolling on something that is very useful and badly needed in our school complex,” he said. “I support the turf field 100 percent.”

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