MAU tops Brattleboro, snaps losing streak

Brattleboro's Sarah Wright and Mount Anthony's Rebecca Crosier battle to get to the ball at Spinelli Field in 2018.  The $3.5 million Spinelli Field improvement project will likely make an appearance on ballots this November. The Mount Anthony Union School Board on Wednesday night passed a motion to begin the legal process of adding the project to the upcoming ticket in a 7 to 3 vote.

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BENNINGTON — The $3.5 million Spinelli Field improvement project will likely make an appearance on ballots this November.

The Mount Anthony Union School Board on Wednesday night passed a motion to begin the legal process of adding the project to the upcoming ticket in a 7 to 3 vote.

Board members Jackie Kelly, Francis Kinney and Edward Letourneau voted against the proposal, which would add a synthetic turf field, a synthetic running track and a multipurpose building with accessible bathrooms to the high school’s football and track facility.

The vote was taken after the Spinelli Field committee, MSK Engineers and partner firm Goldstone Architecture presented project plans to the community and board.

The proposed project clocked in at $3,500,000 — between $3.8 million and $4 million with interest, about 34 percent less than the quote offered at the Aug. 17 meeting. A portion of the sum would turn the field to synthetic turf, resurface the running track and fix recurring drainage problems.

A $354,000 chunk would cover a proposed multipurpose ticket and storage building, with heating and bathrooms. The project would also add a crow’s nest to the complex, which might encourage media coverage of MAU games.

The Spinelli Field committee expressed concern about the athletic field’s condemned bathroom and storage building, and the shortened play seasons caused by the frozen or flooded field — and its surface condition in general.

Spring sports aren’t even allowed to be played on Spinelli, Ashley Hoyt, athletic director at MAU, explained. The updates would address those concerns and improve safety for MAU athletes, proponents said.

But it’s not only student athletes who will benefit, supporters of the project pointed out.

“Both my students are involved in the arts — music, band and chorus,” said varsity head football coach Chad Gordon. “With the turf complex, they’ll have increased opportunities to have outdoor performances.”

“It’s an equity issue, so that all students can use this facility,” he said.

Back and forth

Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, reiterated the concerns she expressed on behalf of her constituents at the last meeting Aug. 17.

Though not able to make Wednesday’s meeting because of work, she spoke with the Banner about the Spinelli Field vote.

“I was hearing from constituents on a fixed income, concerned about another bond,” Morrissey said.

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She relayed sentiments older constituents have expressed.

“‘We’re really getting priced out of our homes for the rest of our lives,’” she said. According to census data, Bennington and Vermont in general does have a large aging population.

And Morrissey felt a responsibility to speak for that group. “I want, in the discussion, all voices to be heard,” she said.

She was quick to add that she understands the field needs an update. “I respect the people who proposed this,” she said.

Renee Gordon, director of finance and operations, might have good news for Morrissey’s constituents. She said that an old bond will cycle off next year. If the Spinelli bond is added, taxpayers will likely not pay any more than they already do. Taxes might even dip, depending on the repayment plan of the new bond.

Board member Kelly had several objections to the proposal as it stands, though. For her, the updates come at too high a price tag.

“I think the board needs to be the prime example of conservative spending,” she said.

She thought the plan was a bit overzealous, including “a ticket booth worth more than” her house. The budget she cited is for the multipurpose building, which — in addition to the ticket booth — will provide bathrooms up to American Disability Act code, storage for the school’s athletic department and the crow’s nest.

Hoyt, the athletic director, defended the inclusion of the multipurpose building in the Spinelli Field plans.

“Based on the crowd sizes we’re getting, we don’t have enough restrooms at all. The restroom situation is a serious situation, especially the fact that on the visitor side, we don’t have ADA-compliant restrooms.” She feels the cost is justified.

But Kelly’s concerns went beyond cost — one seemed to be environmental. “How do you ban plastic bags and then make a plastic field?” she asked before Wednesday’s meeting.

Michael Kuser, chairman of Bennington’s Energy Committee and father of two MAU students, shared Kelly’s concern about the effect the turf might have.

“It contradicts the general direction of policy to avoid high energy and intensity processes when possible.” He added that he’d prefer to see his daughters play on natural grass, not artificial turf.

But board member Kelly agreed with her colleagues that Spinelli needs attention. “I really think the field needs to be improved. It’s been neglected for a long time,” she said.

Board member Susan Plaisance voiced her strong support of the project. “I had no idea that that shed was condemned, and we should be embarrassed as a community that we have a condemned building in our sports arena,” said Plaisance, also advertising manager for the Banner and Manchester Journal.

Hoyt also emphasized the importance of this project for MAU: “These upgrades, they’re not a want, and I think that’s important for you to know. They are an absolute need for our athletic teams and just our school community as a whole.”


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