By Amaris Castillo
Are Dracut Public Schools in need of a new multipurpose athletic facility?
Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone wholeheartedly believes so.
In a blog post published recently, Stone detailed the possibility of a new, 84,000-square-foot, synthetic playing surface that would partially replace the aging Beaudry Field at Dracut High School.
The surface would extend to Complex Road and ensure a regulation-sized field for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and football, according to Stone.
The project's cost is about $1.5 million, he said, and if brought to fruition is expected to take three months to complete.
"The facility itself is aging," Stone said. "The playing surface needs to be addressed in terms of safety and its ability to withstand the beating it takes from athletes. The second reason is that the stadium was built for football only, and it can't host soccer, field hockey or lacrosse games. It puts those sports -- which have many more student-athletes than we have playing football -- at a disadvantage."
The School Department last spring began a formal study of a possible renovation of the athletic stadium, according to Stone.
Huntress Associates Inc., a landscape architecture, planning and engineering firm specializing in sports and recreation, land planning and historic-preservation projects, was retained by the school district to develop a master plan.
The project would be a partial renovation to make the current field regulation-sized for soccer, field hockey and lacrosse.
It would retain as much of the existing infrastructure as possible, including the current home seating and press box.
"This is a multipurpose athletic facility. It's not redoing the football field," Stone stressed. "It is for all of the sports, and that's something I've been careful to focus on."
Stone said in his blog post that Beaudry Field and its sister fields are unable to provide consistent and safe playing surfaces, and that the lighting is insufficient and obsolete. Last week, he said it's common for referees to express their displeasure at the playing surface.
The School Committee's athletic field development subcommittee, which consists of Joe Wilkie and Betsy Murphy, will meet in coming months to dig deeper into the idea.
Wilkie said he anticipates there could be public sessions in the months to follow.
"I'm in favor of the exploration and, hopefully, the culmination of the project that will lead to the field," Wilkie said. "My vision or hope for this project is one that's collaborative in nature and that we're able to share all the information with the community, and that people would see the benefit to the student-athletes."
As for financing the project, Stone said this would not be a school project because the School Department doesn't have the resources to fund a stadium.
He said the conversation may include the Community Preservation Committee and there would likely be fundraising involved.
Murphy and Athletic Director Trevor Blanchet did not return messages seeking comment.
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @Amaris Castillo. Her email address is acastillo@ lowellsun.com.