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KUA Opens New Field House After Year of Construction Delays

  • Nathan Clay, 6, of Hartford, holds up his orange pinnie as he passes the ball during a drill at the new indoor athletic fields at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Nathan Clay, 6, of Hartford, holds up his orange pinnie as he passes the ball during a drill at the new indoor athletic fields at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • A group of Lightning Soccer Club players and their instructor, Soren Smith of Fairlee practices at the new indoor athletic field at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    A group of Lightning Soccer Club players and their instructor, Soren Smith of Fairlee practices at the new indoor athletic field at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nathan Clay, 6, of Hartford, holds up his orange pinnie as he passes the ball during a drill at the new indoor athletic fields at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • A group of Lightning Soccer Club players and their instructor, Soren Smith of Fairlee practices at the new indoor athletic field at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, yesterday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Meriden — Last week’s opening of a new $2 million field house at Kimball Union Academy came about a year later than planned — but there is no waiting for the cheers now.

“It’s really nice. Just amazing,” said KUA sophomore Dan Hall, while taking a break from booting around a soccer ball with sophomores Jon Butler and Ben Brady on the 50-by-80-yard artificial turf surface Thursday evening.

Hall said students will be able to keep up their skills in the off-season.

“If you don’t play basketball, hockey or ski, what’s left? It will be fun to come and be able to get touches on the ball,” he added.

The three members of the KUA soccer team said the turf is softer and more realistic than the artificial playing service that was put down on the hockey rink, which previously doubled as the off-season practice area.

“It is much more like real grass, so the ball doesn’t skip as much,” Brady said.

It is the sort of reception that KUA’s Chief Executive Jim Gray is happy to hear after the school fired the original contractor, dismantled steel framing and removed concrete footings due to subpar construction.

“The word we hear most often from everyone is ‘wow,’ ” Gray said this week. “We now have a great practice facility for our students.

The original contract was signed in June 2011 with general contractor JDE Inc., of Cape Coral, Fla., and had a six-month timeline for completion.

In November, a subcontractor that had been fired by JDE raised concerns about the quality of construction.

That complaint triggered visits to the site from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Bureau of Building Safety and Construction of the state Fire Marshal’s office.

“There are serious issues with the building structurally, and it may end up having to come down,” State Fire Marshal William Degnan said in an interview with the Valley News in November 2011.

In turns out, that is exactly what was done.

“We had to completely remove the concrete footings that were poorly designed and constructed,” Gray said, adding that the steel framing also had to be taken down.

“It cost about $600,000 to completely remove everything and start over,” he said. “But I know we ended up with a much better facility.”

The final cost, paid for 100 percent by donations, was about $2.3 million, Gray said.

“When you spend more than what you would like to, it is disappointing. However, the donors are thrilled with the finish product,” Gray said. “It is a little ironic that we opened Jan. 11, which is one day short of a year when we fired the other contractor. A lot of good things have happened in the last year.”

KUA hired PC Construction (formerly Pizzagalli Construction), of South Burlington, as the new general contractor along with Hanvoer’s UK Architects Summit Engineering, of Portsmouth, N.H., and NET Sports Group, of South Portland, Maine, the turf supplier.

Claremont’s Osgood Construction erected the steel frame.

Regarding the lawsuit KUA brought against JDE over failure to construct a proper footing and foundation system alleging “defective” work and forging engineering plans, Gray could only say, “our lawyers are talking to their lawyers.”

Though the turf is artificial, it’s designed to look and feel like grass.

“It’ll get the students out of sub-zero temperatures and knee-deep snow,” Gray said. “After dinner or study hall, they can put on turf shoes, come down and burn off some energy.”

Sophomore Butler said he looks forward to early spring and indoor practices.

“It’s great. I can’t wait for lacrosse,” said Butler, who grabbed a lacrosse stick to join another student. “When we start practice outdoors there is snow on the ground and it’s freezing. It’s miserable to play in. ”

At the other end, several youngsters with the Lightning Soccer program were doing drills under the direction of coach Soren Smith.

With about 400 kids in the program that serves the Upper Valley and beyond, Smith said the facility will give them a central location to continue playing between the fall and spring seasons.

“We can actually get them together and keep training throughout the winter,” said Smith of Fairlee.

Gray said soccer will be the primary sport but lacrosse and field hockey will also use the facility.

They are undecided right now about early season practice for softball and baseball because of the need to bring in hitting machines and put up netting for batting practice.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.