After a unanimous recommendation by the Memorial Building Committee, the School Committee and Park and Recreation Commission unanimously approved upgrading the planned soccer field surface at the New Memorial School to a synthetic surface. This change order fits within the existing construction contingency funds already built into the project. This vote came as a result of the Memorial Building Committee charging the architect to explore different field surface options at the New Memorial and to evaluate these options in terms of value to the community and cost.
The base bid of the new school includes the ground work necessary to create a full size soccer field and a seeded surface without irrigation. This surface requires two growing seasons to be ready for play. Once ready for play, use of the seeded surface will need to be managed or the field will deteriorate quickly. An example of the need for limited play can be seen in the current condition of Brush Field at Marshall Simonds Middle School. Park and Rec invested $200,000 in the field recently and the field has not held up well because of the lack of irrigation and over-use.
The first field surface option explored was to add irrigation and finish the soccer surface with sod. This option is an $85,000 change from the base bid. The sod surface requires one growing season before play and would still require the same management of use for the condition of the field to be maintained.
The second option explored using a synthetic surface as the covering on the field similar to the Varsity Field renovation last summer. This option is a $385,000 change from the base bid. The significantly lower cost between the Varsity Field cost and the cost of the New Memorial Field is due to the site work (to create the field) already being included in the base bid.
While the site work costs are reimbursed from the state with all options, either new field surface options and the irrigation included with the sod are not reimbursable expenses.
All state school construction projects are required to have a built-in 7.5% contingency fund. The MSBA determined that a 7.5% contingency fund is the average needed in school projects across the state. The New Memorial currently has used 3% of this contingency and it is estimated that the contingency fund will have between $500,000 and $600,000 available at the end of the project. The costs associated with either surface option would be taken out of the remaining contingency. Even with the synthetic option, the overall project will fall within the average school project in regards to contingency and be completed $6 million below the estimate and the original Town Meeting approved amount.
While there are no perfect field surfaces, the synthetic option provides immediate and unlimited use, improves the drainage on the site, provides a lower maintenance cost, and creates much-needed community field for youth programs such as soccer and lacrosse. The rubber infill is the same substance that is being used in the fall zones of the new playground equipment that are also a part of the project. In the end, the School Committee and the Park and Rec Commission felt that the synthetic surface provided the best value to the community in regards to frequency of use and annual maintenance – especially if one considers the money recently spent on Brush Field.
Because the synthetic surface option is a significant change order, the School Committee and Park and Rec, at the recommendation of the Town Moderator, placed a non-binding, confirmatory article (Article 28) on the warrant for May’s Town Meeting. At this time the School Committee and Park and Rec will summarize their thinking on their decision and ask for the opinion of Town Meeting.