By Kate Hartman
@HartmanRegister on Twitter
Burlington >> Harwinton and Burlington residents rejected spending $2.9 million to construct a new multi-use athletic field at Lewis S. Mills High School by a large margin at a Tuesday referendum.
The official tally of the two towns was 920 in favor, 1409 opposed. In Harwinton, 275 voted in favor and 528 opposed. In Burlington, 645 in favor and 881 opposed.
The improvement project would have included renovating the track, installing a turf field, adding bleachers and field lighting, renovating the school’s tennis courts and adding boat storage for its crew program. The project was initially slated to cost $3.4 million, but the regional Board of Education reduced the price tag at its meeting in December following a public hearing where many people and town officials expressed concern at the large price tag.
Region 10 Superintendent Alan Beitman speculated that even the reduced price was too much for residents to stomach and led to the rejection.
“Three million dollars is a lot of money. People are scared and rightfully so,” said Beitman. “Over the long term, the board felt strongly that it was a good investment, but when the community speaks with these kind of resounding numbers [it’s hard to argue.]”
The project would have included $850,000 for an all-weather synthetic field, $425,000 for an all-weather track, $50,000 for field equipment, $35,000 for field reconstruction, $300,000 for tennis courts, $350,000 for lighting, $315,000 for bleachers, $100,000 for the press box and sound system, $30,000 for a scoreboard and $100,000 for the crew boat house.
Beitman said the board of education does not plan to revise the project and take it back to referendum. Region 10 staff will now have to figure out how to make the facilities usable for the spring sports season. The immediate needs are replacement of the tennis courts, repairs to the track and finding a place to store the crew boats.
“We should be able to get the spring season in but that’s about it,” Beitman said of the tennis courts. “If we go through another winter, I don’t think they can be repaired.”
That will be a large expense in the school’s operating budget, since the project is only $300,000 and not large enough to be bonded like the complete $2.9 million would have been.
Lewis Mills will go back to hosting its football games at Muzzy Field in Bristol and rotating the athletic fields throughout the year.
Harwinton First Selectman Mike Criss and Burlington First Selectman Ted Shafer were impressed by the large voter turnout from both of their towns.
“It showed people were interested and wanted to get out [and voice their opinion],” said Criss. “I think that the people spoke and there’s an opportunity for us to collaborate and work together now and try to come up with plan to…restore them to make them usable for the season. Harwinton stands ready with our recreation fields to help like last year with practice and games.”
The rejection of the proposal puts the pressure back on Burlington to find more fields for recreational sports. Shafer said the town’s parks and recreation department identified a need for more field space about two years ago, and he has been looking into land options since then. If the referendum had passed, it would have, “relieved the situation to a certain degree,” said Shafer.
From here, Region 10 schools will make a plan to work with the facilities they have and make necessary upgrades as they come along.
“Together we all need to move forward in a positive way,” said Shafer.