On Tuesday night, the Manchester Board of Aldermen accepted the final results of last month’s election, but the major topic of discussion revolved around Gill Stadium.
MANCHESTER, NH — In an 8-2-2 vote, the board approved acceptance of a report from the Committee on Community Improvement recommending turf field replacement at Gill Stadium.
The report came from a Monday meeting of the committee where Mayor Ted Gatsas recommended the city pursue replacement of the turf field due to safety concerns.
With the report’s approval, the city can now begin the process around potential replacement proposals for the field. At some point, discussion around a possible bond issuance for the turf replacement will also return to the board, although no concrete dollar amounts were voted upon in the motion.
Concerns over cost highlighted opposition to the proposal, although concerns with the cost came in different forms.
Alderman-at-Large Daniel O’Neil challenged Gatsas’ assumption that the cost of the Gill Stadium turf field would likely be comparable to the $1.4 million figure cited in replacement of the turf field at Manchester West High School, stating that the field at Gill Stadium is much larger in area.
Gatsas indicated that the cost may actually be less than the cost of turf replacement at West due to differing drainage needs in addition to repeated references to the safety of high school athletes using the field.
In particular, Gatsas mentioned a recent severe knee injury to a high school soccer player, fearing comparable injuries if the field was not replaced by the beginning of the 2018-19 School Year.
While sympathetic to Gatsas’ safety concerns, O’Neil urged patience before moving forward, fearing that a poorly chosen funding amount for the project would create a need for new funding requests at a later date, limiting the ability of DPW Director Kevin Sheppard to oversee the project’s completion.
“I think we’re guessing at numbers we don’t know anything about,” said O’Neil. “The worst thing we can do is lowball a project and have Kevin come back for more money.”
O’Neil, who serves as a lacrosse and football official, also noted that grass would be a preferable alternative to artificial turf if safety is the major reason for the replacement, stating statistics indicating that natural grass reduces injuries to athletes.
In the final roll call on the report’s acceptance, O’Neil and Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh voted to abstain from a Yes or No vote, seeking additional information on the project’s exact cost.
Ward 5 Alderman Anthony Sapienza and At-Large Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur voted against the measure, also noting concerns relating to the project’s potential cost.
Sapienza stated his disagreement with the mayor’s urgency over the safety concerns while Levasseur opposed bonding the project entirely.
In his statements, Levasseur instead urged a natural grass approach at the stadium, believing it would be more cost effective in the long run.
That belief was challenged by Sheppard, who stated that reconfiguring the field’s drainage systems for natural grass would negate potential cost savings.
Sheppard also advocated against Levasseur’s opposition to hiring consultants before going out to bid on the turf fields.
“We could bring a salesman in and the salesman could tell us what he wants,” said Sheppard. “I’d rather have a consultant working for us that could advise us on what we want.”
An exact amount for the consultant was not indicated in the motion either, although during discussion, it was indicated that a likely amount would cost somewhere between $50,000 and $80,000.
While some of the other aldermen in attendance also voiced concerns regarding the exact amount needed for the project, they echoed the mayor’s concerns over safety, noting Finance Director Bill Sanders’ guidance that the exact amount of a bond issuance for the project can be voted upon at a later date.
Ward 2 Alderman Ron Ludwig and Ward 6 Alderman Elizabeth Moreau were not in attendance, with Moreau scheduled to give birth on Tuesday.
Editor’s note: Just after midnight, Alderman Moreau posted the following message via social media:” Birthing plans can go a stray, but glad to say Jonathan Pierre was born 12/5 weighing in at 10.2 pounds 23 inches and overall is doing great. Looking forward to introducing him to his family and friends later this week!”