By Prudence Brighton
As the School Department explores possibilities for upgrading the high-school athletic field, town officials are discussing combining forces to add major work at Veterans Memorial Park to the project list.
Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone told the School Committee recently that he and Town Manager Jim Duggan have been in talks to package an upgrade to the high-school stadium and playing field with a drainage project for Veterans Park. Working with the town will mean the School Department can add a second multipurpose athletic field.
Duggan told selectmen that the Community Preservation Committee must review the plans and approve funding. He expects that to happen by the CPC's February meeting. He anticipates that Town Meeting will have a chance to vote on it in June.
Beaudry Field at Dracut High needs a synthetic surface that accommodates soccer, lacrosse and field hockey in addition to football. The stadium needs at least a partial restoration.
Veterans Park, with its youth athletic fields and a popular water park, has serious drainage issues, especially in times of high precipitation. During these periods, the town has a choice: Let teams play and destroy the fields, or let the fields stand idle.
Because teams that play at Veterans Park are feeders for high-school athletics, Duggan says it makes sense for the town to support the school project. The project will require coordination with the School Department to ensure that there is always playing space available.
The cost for the high-school athletic fields is estimated at $2.5 million, of which $2.2 million is eligible for reimbursement. The synthetic surfaces are not eligible. The town would have to find money for the surfaces.
The cost estimate for Veterans Park is between $1.25 million and $1.5 million.
Before the selectmen's meeting, Chairman Jesse Forcier said he thinks the combined effort is a "fantastic idea." He calls Veterans Park a "jewel" for Dracut.
The recent growth in the town residential and industrial tax bases means the town "should reinvest into the schools," Forcier said.
Selectman Tony Archinski said he's interested in hearing more about the idea because he has been asking the town manager to look into the drainage issue.
School Committee Chairman Joe Wilkie said the proposal "is really positive and a tremendous opportunity to collaborate."
If the project is approved at Town Meeting, the new athletic fields would be available for the 2020 football season.