Hartford to Seek Lower Cost Field House Design

Hartford — With guidance from community members and survey results, the School Board on Wednesday night moved a step closer to determining how to use the $1.5 million remaining from the school’s portion of the $9 million bond passed at Town Meeting in 2013.

The divided board cast a 3-2 vote to return to the project architect and see what a scaled-back version of a field house would look like .

As designed, the field house, which would be constructed on the grounds of Hartford High School near the Sherman Manning Pool, would cost an estimated $1.55 million. The school district wants to complete the field house project, as well as construct a track and turf field .

Officials thought they would have enough money for both, but cost overruns on renovations to Hartford Memorial Middle School and an underestimated price for the track and field led to a shortfall in funds.

The motion that passed Wednesday night directs Superintendent Tom DeBalsi to meet with architect David Laurin to determine what type of field house could be built for both $750,000 and $1 million . DeBalsi said it is unclear whether he would have the new specifications by the next board meeting on June 25.

The vote came after nearly two hours of discussion about how to spend the remaining money under the bond.

A number of motions were presented, but many did not receive support from other board members.

School Board Chairman Kevin Christie and School Board member Peter Merrill voted against the proposal to go back to the architect. Merrill had asked board members to commit to spending the remaining money on the field house and then go back to the voters for additional money to complete the track and turf field.

School Board member Paul Keane said that it wouldn’t be fair to leave the track and field project without any funding.

The one thing that board members did agree on Wednesday night was that some residents were going to be unhappy no matter the board’s decision. “No matter what we do we will be criticized from here to kingdom come, that is a guarantee,” said School Board member Lori Dickerson. “We are still stuck in a quandary,” she said later on in the meeting, noting there are “so many facets to this” and “there are so many valid points to all of them.”

There were several options discussed Wednesday night, some of which reflected recently tabulated results from the more than 180 responses to a survey about the unspent bond funds. Suggestions ranged from splitting the remaining money down the middle and giving some money to each of the remaining projects — the track and turf field and field house — to giving the money back to the tax payers.

The results of the four-question survey, which was offered to Hartford students of all ages and to voting and non-voting age community members, asked residents for advice on how to use the remaining funds. Two of the questions, which were both targeted at prioritizing residents’ opinions on how to expend the funds, yielded slightly different responses.

One of the questions had respondents favoring building a field house with the remaining money, while the other, on a cumulative scale, favored renovating the existing bathhouse near the Sherman Manning Pool and have it house the athletic training equipment.

Wednesday night, residents Tim Fariel, Gabrielle Lucke, Sheila Hastie and Chris Snedden all spoke. “I think we need to regroup and I don’t recommend a rushed process,” said Fariel, recommending more public forums be held to collect input on a way forward.

Voters at the 2013 Town Meeting passed a $9 million recreation bond to complete town and school projects. The school district originally had $3.25 million available under that bond — $900,000 for middle school improvements, $1.55 million to build a field house and $800,000 for construction of a track and turf field. The remainder went to the town’s projects.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.