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The Spinelli Field Ad-Hoc Committee heard a presentation Wednesday of potential improvements to the athletic facility.

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BENNINGTON — Potential contractors to improve the athletic field, running track and lights at Mount Anthony Union High school presented a rough proposal to the Spinelli Field Ad-Hoc Committee on Wednesday, laying out how they’d make changes and how the district could pay for them.

Jim Catella of the Clark Companies of Delhi, N.Y., and Andrew Dyjak, a regional vice president for FieldTurf, laid out a scenario in which the MAU school district would lease-to-own the synthetic surface and facility improvements over as many as eight years.

FieldTurf, a division of Tarkett, a French company, offers to finance to public institutions at rates competitive with the municipal bond market, Dyjak said.

The committee has been exploring improvements to the field and track that would allow them to be used year-round for practices, games and other events, and reduce maintenance costs. Natural grass conditions at Spinelli Field prevent its use beyond home football games and some soccer games in the fall. It’s not used at all during lacrosse season in the spring.

The Spinelli committee unanimously recommended synthetic turf instead of natural grass last year.

According to Catella and Dyjak, the synthetic turf carries a warranty for 10 years and, with proper care, can last as long as 15 years. The turf is recycled, and the cost of replacement is less than the initial outlay, they said.

Dyjak said the advantage of financing through FieldTurf is that the payments would come out of the existing district budget and would not affect the district’s bond rating.

It’s been nearly a year since district voters rejected a $3.5 million bond authorization that would have replaced the natural grass field with a regulation-sized synthetic field, a new track, brighter and more efficient LED lighting, and an all-purpose building. The latest proposal scales back the proposal, eliminating the building, and has been guesstimated at about $2 million.

Catella and Dyjak were brought in by Peter Geannelis, a 1977 MAU graduate and three-sport athlete interested in improving the state of the Spinelli complex. Geannellis, a veterinarian, had met Catella while the Clark Companies were rebuilding the baseball field at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. Catella said the Clark Companies built the turf field at Burr and Burton Academy.

Asked by committee Chair Mike Malloy when she would need to know costs for the fiscal 2023 budget, Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Finance and Operations Director Renee Gordon said she would need to have the budget set by mid-June.

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But Pyjak noted that could stretch out the constriction timeline.

“If we have to wait to July 1 to do permitting, this is not a fiscal 2023 project. This is a fiscal 2024 project,” he said. That said, it’s possible that FieldTurf could start the planning process as the budget moves forward, and once the plans are done, “that doesn’t go away.”

Catella said he would need to see further information, including a study of the soils and ground conditions at the site, before he could update the cost estimate. And Holly Andersen, the SVSU’s new director of facilities management and operations, said she’d want to see more information about what plumbing, electrical conduits or other structures might be on the site.

MAU board member Jackie Kelly indicated some support for an approach that allowed the district to lock in a price for the project early and use funds from the current (fiscal 2023) budget. But she also said she wanted to run the materials proposed for the project past science experts at Bennington College and with the state.

“I’d really like the specs on the materials that are used,” she said. “Our two concerns as we stated before were the money and the concern with PFOA and contaminants. … Before we take a vote I’d like to find that out and have somebody say to me and the public, ‘These are OK.’”

Dyjak said FieldTurf’s manufacturing process does not involve PFAS chemicals, but uses water rather than synthetic lubricants. He said hundreds of studies had shown “zero link whatsoever between cancer and synthetic turf.”

“Some manufacturers use forever chemicals,” Dyjak said. “FieldTurf has never used PFAS.”

As for the infill: Last year, the committee said it would pursue infill materials other than ground rubber. But Pyjak said FieldTurf doesn’t recommend alternative infill materials, saying many of them freeze and have been found to not offer as much injury protection.

Catella said the current running track – which has sinkholes at one end – can likely be taken up and replaced, as the pavement underneath the running surface seems to be in good condition.

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik@benningtonbanner.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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