School Committee Supports Bringing Athletic Complex Project To Voters
School board members speak unanimously in support of FOTCAC project, but School Committee votes only to support putting the question on an April ballot.
All five members of the Tewksbury School Committee publicly declared their support for the Friends of Tewksbury Community Athletic Complex (FOTCAC) quest to build an enhanced athletic stadium at the new Tewksbury High School next year, but the board stopped short of formerly endorsing the project Wednesday night.
In a move that was largely symbolic, the School Committee voted, 5-0, in favor of placing a question on the April town election ballot that would permit the town to borrow $2.2 million to upgrade current plans for a high school athletic field to include a synthetic turf field, lights, larger stands, a scoreboard and a press box, as well as several tennis courts.
Two weeks ago, Tewksbury's Board of Selectmen passed a similar measure, paving the way for the athletic complex question to appear on the town's general election ballot on April 7.
FOTCAC had originally sought to raise enough money from donations and sponsorships to build the enhanced athletic complex without using taxpayer dollars. But after a year's worth of fundraising netted the group only $50,000, FOTCAC approached both the selectmen and the School Committee in recent weeks and asked for support in placing a measure on the April ballot that would seek voter approval to have the town borrow the money for the project.
According to FOTCAC spokesman Paul Hibner, the ballot initiative, if passed, would result in an increase of just $20 per year on the average Tewksbury homeowner's real estate tax bill. The debt would be paid off in 10 years, at which point the additional taxes would be eliminated.
"I support what (FOTCAC) was trying to do and I understand their predicament," School Committee member Joseph Russell said. "I think that this new high school needs a field where more of our students can use that field and a turf field would do that.
"I know it's a difficult time right now," Russell added. "But I think $20 a year for 10 years is well worth it for what this town is going to get out of it."
"This field is important for many reasons," agreed committee member Dennis Francis. "This is more than just a sports field, this is a field for the entire community. It can be used year round, and I think it completes the project.
"I think it's the way to go and I think it's the right time, because sooner or later, this project will be done," Francis added.
Committee member Jayne Miller expressed concern that other, equally important town needs have not been addressed ahead of the athletic complex.
"I'm a little conflicted about building an enhanced field when we aren't putting in full day kindergarten, and when we have other budget constraints that are facing us," Miller said. "But that being said, I look forward to my kids running on this field. I look forward to that enhancement to our community."
Committee member Brian Dick, who also serves on the FOTCAC committee, reiterated his support for the project.
"It's going to affect a lot of students for many years to come," Dick said. "I think it's a special opportunity to kind of put the candle on the cake. I think it should have been part of the original plan."
School Committee Chairperson Krissy Polimeno commended FOTCAC for their hard work and dedication to seeing the project through.
"I wholeheartedly support this effort. I think it's a great thing," Polimeno said. "I think it's the right thing for Tewksbury and I think it's the right thing for this new high school."
Superintendent of Schools Dr. John O'Connor also spoke in favor of the FOTCAC project.
"This initiative will benefit the school district for generations," O'Connor said. "So I hope people will take the time to read (the ballot question) very carefully and then vote the way they feel they should vote."
The school committee stopped short, however, of voting to support the passage of the measure, but rather voted in support of bringing the question to the April ballot.
But Dick, who has been the board's most outspoken advocate of the project, expressed satisfaction with the steps taken by the School Committee.
"I think it was important for the board to endorse bringing the measure before the voters to allow transparency and to allow everybody to weigh in," Dick said. "Endorsements are great. I think we're all in it for the same goal and that is to represent the kids of Tewksbury. Every vote should be for those kids to have a better experience in our district.
"I think it was clear and evident that we're all together on this," Dick added. "We want to see this come to fruition."