Time is running out in the fourth quarter and the Friends Of Tewksbury Community Athletic Complex (FOTCAC) are in a two-minute drill in their year-long quest to provide the new Tewksbury High School with a state-of-the-art athletic complex in time for the 2013 fall season.
FOTCAC last summer announced plans to raise $2.2 million to help the town upgrade its construction plans for the new high school complex to include a multi-purpose synthetic turf playing field surrounded by an eight lane running track, complete with expanded viewing stands, lights, a scoreboard and a press box.
But eight months of fund-raising has netted the group just $14,600 in ready cash, and the committee has decided to go hat-in-hand to the voters and ask Tewksbury’s taxpayers to pony up $1.7 million for a scaled down version of the project.
“Given the fact that we need to raise nearly $2 million we’re a long way from getting home,“ FOTCAC spokesman Paul Hibner told the Tewksbury School Committee at its Wednesday night meeting. “At this point, with the few funds that we have, there is no way we will accomplish our goal and hit the target date that is projected for the fall of 2013. So this is something we would like to put forward (at town meeting).”
FOTCAC can have an article added to the annual May town meeting warrant simply by submitting a petition, signed by 10 registered, voters before the board of selectmen closes the warrant in early spring. Either the school committee or the board of selectmen could vote to place the article on the town meeting warrant at FOTCAC’s request, as well.
“There’s plenty of time to get this in front of the voters (in May), and we think the residents of Tewksbury should have the opportunity to decide (whether the project dies or moves forward),” Hibner said.
The proposal that Hibner hopes to see go before town meeting would not include lighting for night games, Hibner said. Some Tewksbury residents who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the high school campus have voiced concerns about potential noise and traffic problems if the proposed complex were to host night games, particularly high school football games.
“In response to the neighbors’ concerns, we’ve decided to remove the lights from the proposal,” Hibner said.
Hibner expressed disappointment that his group’s fundraising efforts have met with relatively little success. In eight months, FOTCAC has received just $4,000 in corporate donations and $10,000 in private donations, according to Hibner.
“It’s disappointing, because we’ve got a lot of verbal support,” Hibner said. “I don’t know, maybe it’s a sign of the (economic) times. People tell you they think it’s a great idea and they’ll send you a check on Monday, but the check never comes.”
FOTCAC has had some success at raising funds through its “Affinity Program” with TD Bank. Through this program, TD Bank has agreed to contribute a percentage of its earnings from funds deposited with the bank that are linked to the project. Hibner forecasted that the TD Bank program will generate approximately $90,000 for the project over the next 10 years.
Hibner said the group will be applying for a $500,000 Parks Grant through the Commonwealth of Massachusetts this spring, as well.
But grants and fundraising are extremely unlikely to generate the money that would be needed to expand the current new high school building plans before it is time to break ground for the grass field that was approved when town meeting voted to build the new high school last February.
Hibner denied that this was a last gasp attempt to keep the project alive.
“It’s more of an attempt to keep (the project) on track and have a field that’s ready for the kids to play on in the fall of 2013,” Hibner said. “They’re going to start tearing down the (existing) high school this summer and when that happens they need to start construction on the new (athletic) facility, and we just clearly don’t have the means to make that happen now.”
Hibner received support from several school committee members after his presentation.
“I think it’s important that the townspeople have a say in what’s being done,” school committee member Dennis Francis said. “I really applaud the efforts that you are trying to do because I really think it’s a project down the road that will benefit not just the schools, but it will benefit everybody in this community.”
School board member Brian Dick, who also sits on the FOTCAC committee, expressed frustration that the group’s fundraising efforts have not been more fruitful.
“We haven’t had a lot of bites,” Dick said. “But as frustrating as that is, there’s still a lot of enthusiasm within the group that I see. ...There’s a lot of people who would like something like this for the high school. I think (a town meeting vote) is very important.”
School committee member Joe Russell, who has been an advocate for the project since it’s initial stages, suggested that FOTCAC may find some support from taxpayers, given the fact that the new high school building project has come in well under budget so far.
“I’m glad that you’re looking at an article,” Russell told Hibner. “The building committee was given the task of building a new high school, the (taxpayers) gave them a certain amount of money that they’re willing to pay for it, the bids came in a lot lower, the high school is on track, everything is working out well. There’s monies that the town was willing to pay for an A-plus facility and I think if we don’t put in a field that can be used all three seasons…that we’re doing the town a disservice if we don’t bring this to them and give them a chance to decide whether to invest in it or not.
“I think once people see how valuable that field is at the high school…they’ll realize that it was a great investment,” Russell added.
Russell also asked school committee chairperson Krissy Polimeno to bring the matter back before the committee for on vote on whether or not to have it added to the town meeting warrant.
“I would like to, as a committee, try and do something, because it think it’s something that the town needs and I think the opportunity is now,” Russell said.