Over budget, New Canaan Athletic Foundation asks towns for more money for fields
NEW CANAAN — After it came in nearly $1 million over budget, the Board of Finance has approved the allotment of an additional $800,000 to the New Canaan High School field and track project Tuesday.
The project — which would see the renovation and resurfacing of three “Water Tower Turf” fields at the high school, as well as the track — was a partnership between the town and the New Canaan Athletic Foundation, a nonprofit that raised $545,000 of private funds to return the Dunning Stadium field in 2016, initially estimated to cost around $4.8 million.
The Board of Finance vote is the first of two steps — the second being approval from the Town Council — to secure funding for the amended project.
Of the $4.8 million, the town had agreed to bond $3.1 million, while the NCAF would contribute $1.7 million in private donations.
However, unforeseen costs relating to the gradation of the first Water Tower Turf Field have caused those numbers to rise.
“It’s really a driver of this conversation, it’s effectively why we’re here. There’s a 42-inch drop from one end to the other of that field,” said Board of Finance member Robert Spangler. At the time the plan was presented and accepted by the town, the extent of the cost to regrade the field was not known.
Spangler, also a member of the NCAF, recused himself from his seat on the Board of Finance for the discussion and helped to make the presentation on behalf of the NCAF.
The total additional estimated cost to fix the grade is $440,000, Spangler said. Additionally, an unexpected patch of building material left over from when the high school’s construction was found beneath a section of the track, making it unsuitable to build on and requiring its removal.
“If you want this track to last a lifetime, which is what it’s supposed to do, you would not allow that material to be under it,” Spangler said.
All said, the NCAF needs an estimated $955,000 to complete the project with the necessary fixes, $155,000 of which they are able to contribute privately. The result is an $800,000 bill for the town to pick up.
“I think all of us are looking at this saying, these aren’t just little misses, these are very large misses. And how did that come about?” Board of Finance member Stephen Boeschenstein asked.
According to Spangler, CAD images of the field from when it was originally built with private funds in 2006 by Avon-based firm Richter and Cegan were not immediately made available to the design firm, LDDS, chosen for this project.
“It took... LDDS months to get the CAD files back from Richter and Cegan, in order to do some preliminary work that would be more precise, so that LDDS wouldn’t have to go out and do all that survey work themselves to the order of like $50,000 to $75,000,” Michael Benevento, a founder of the NCAF explained.
According to Spangler, by June, members of the NCAF, the Town Fields Building Committee and the Board of Selectmen were aware of issues with the location and possible overruns.
“Who signed off on the decision to do the project that pulled out a bunch of stuff?” Board of Finance member Amy Carroll asked.
The Board of Selectmen, at their June 27 meeting, approved the contract between the town and the contractors. The NCAF, according to Spangler, was optimistic they could make up the deficit.
“Honestly at that time, my hope was that the private side of this would be able to make up for that differential so we wouldn’t be in that spot,” Spangler said.
Benevento also noted that a contingency of donors gave their money to the NCAF specifically to see improvements to the track and to add lighting, as opposed to donating for Water Tower Turf Field One, which the town had planned to redo regardless.
“So think about me and my constituents, and going back to my constituents and saying, ‘Yeah well, the Water Tower (field), which the town was going to replace anyway, we had to shift all that money and that’s why you don’t have lights,’” Benevento said.
Even as the Board of Finance voted unanimously — excluding Spangler — to approve the funds and thanks the NCAF for their work, members expressed a desire for a more transparent process in the future.
“The communication was not optimal on this,” Carroll said.
The Town Council will vote on the appropriation at their Sept. 27 meeting.