New committee sets vision for stadium overhaul

By Douglas McCulloch | Jun 15, 2017
Photo by: Douglas McCulloch Committee Chair David Tatelbaum (left) discusses the project alongside Selectman Stan Mickelson.

After several failed attempts, Memorial Stadium could finally get a new multi-use turf field, upgraded lighting, and handicap-accessible grandstands.

That’s the goal of the Turf Field Committee — to revamp the aging facility, which School Business Administrator James Kiely classified as an “embarrassment.” The stadium currently has lighting that’s so rough, rival teams don’t even realize the lights have been turned on, said Kiely. It also is not handicap accessible, and use of the field is limited due to its physical condition and problems created by weather.

“The biggest issue for us is the condition of the field,” Kiely said at the committee’s inaugural meeting on June 15. “The number of hours a day it can be used is very limited with what we have, and we really use it too much to get it back up to standards.”

The cost and timetable for the project is unclear. Kiely said the big wildcard is the grandstands. He estimated installing the multi-use turf field and lighting systems alone could cost $1.3 million.

“[The grandstands] could be just as expensive as the rest of the project,” Kiely said.

At the meeting, the committee established a draft of its mission statement and brainstormed funding ideas. Chairman David Tatelbaum said the aim is to develop a budget using both public and private funding sources.

Board members suggested offering naming rights and approaching prominent athletic families in the area. With a better-maintained facility, the town could also rent it out to private entities, including youth sports leagues.

For now, Tatelbaum said the committee will compile a list of at least five other towns that have completed a turf field project within the past five years using both public and private funding. The committee will reach out to those towns for guidance on the processes used.

The formation of the committee was a response to several failed attempts to secure funding for the renovation, according to Kiely. While the School Department has known for years that an overhaul was needed, the project shifted to high priority about two years ago.

“We try to make minor improvements as we can, but we really need a larger project to get it up to standards,” Kiely said, adding that before the shift, the department had added handicap-accessible seating and revamped the restrooms.

The first overhaul was tabled amid concerns that an tax override and election vote would be required in addition to Town Meeting approval.

The School Committee’s request for $1.4 million in capital improvement monies — to fund the new turf and lighting — was again put on hold because the middle school roof replacement and the North Dartmouth Library ate up most of the town’s borrowing capacity.

Bleachers on the east side of the stadium were installed in the 1980s. Other structures on the property, including the main bleachers and grandstands, date back to at least the 1930s.

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