Water on Spinelli Field

Spinelli Field after a rainfall.

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BENNINGTON — Now that district voters have turned down a $3.5 million loan to pay for improvements to the Spinelli athletic complex, the school board is again faced with the question of what to do with the dilapidated field.

“I will ask the Spinelli Field Ad Hoc Committee to reconvene in the coming weeks to review next steps,” Superintendent James Culkeen said Wednesday.

Fifty-nine percent of district voters casting ballots voted no on the question, with 1,217 voting no and 841 voting yes. A town-by-town breakdown of the vote was not available because the district counts votes as a whole district, according to Bennington Town Clerk Cassandra Barbeau.

The project would have replaced the running track and playing surface at the complex and added energy-efficient lights and accessible bathrooms.

Members of the board, including some who opposed the project as too pricey or voiced concerns about the unintended health and environmental risks of synthetic turf, said Wednesday that improvements are needed at the complex, especially its poorly drained playing field.

Whether that would still involve $3.5 million worth of improvements — and synthetic turf, which raised concerns about possible PFAS chemical contamination in the run-up to the vote — is another matter. The Mount Anthony Union board is next scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 16.

Mount Anthony board member Carrie Bond indicated she would still support improvements to the field and track, but without synthetic turf.

“I am disappointed that the high school will not get the track, field, and athletic building upgrades that it sorely needs,” Bond wrote in an email. “However, I think this setback gives us a chance to explore more environmentally sound ways to improve our athletic facilities for our kids and community.”

In a letter to the editor last month, board member Jackie Kelly said a “no” vote would ask the Spinelli Field committee to “come up with a better, less costly plan to refurbish a much-needed playing field.”

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Kelly said she still thinks a new field is needed — but “I don’t necessarily want it to be turf, and I’d want it to be much cheaper.”

Kelly said some aspects of the plan, including proposals for a multi-purpose ticket building with bathrooms and a crow’s nest atop the bleachers for filming games, could be backed out. She also said money could be raised for the project rather than bonded, and that Southwest Tech could build the ticket booth instead.

“I think they should go step by step, starting with the drainage instead of all one big pile,” she said. “I know they need a new field. It has to be done.”

Mount Anthony board Chairman Timothy Holbrook thought the effect of a 30-year bond on tax bills was the deciding factor for voters.

“I think it was a matter of money,” Holbrook said. “I think people felt that the additional cost of the project was going to be a burden and they didn’t want to share that burden. I respect that — that’s the way the democratic system works.”

That said, “I am disappointed,” Holbrook added. “It is something we need to do.”

Holbrook said he felt badly for the ad-hoc committee, the professionals who worked on the project, and coaches, teachers and students who were looking forward to having use of the turf field for athletics and other activities.

Board member Dave Frederickson said he was disappointed by the vote, but said voters have been supportive of the district and its needs over the years.

“I don’t know how we move forward,” he said. “We keep putting a Band-Aid on that field.”

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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