MANCHESTER, NH – One way or another, the days of out-of-towners using turf fields at Manchester’s high schools are numbered … at least until rentals of the field return after the end of the pandemic.
On Tuesday night, the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) authorized Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt to close the turf fields at Manchester West and Manchester Memorial High School within 10 days if the signs recently posted restricting access to the fields to Manchester residents are not effective.
While the turf fields themselves are currently closed to the public, the tracks around the fields are still used by Manchester residents for socially-distanced exercise.
However, on recent weekends the fields have seen dozens of individuals assumed to come from out-of-town use the fields for non-socially-distanced flag-football games, with Manchester School District Athletic Director Christine Pariseau-Telge reporting over 150 at West on one Saturday earlier this month.
With bathroom facilities closed at the fields, she reported that the visitors were urinating on the sides of nearby buildings and when she tried to remove them from the fields and notify them that a permit was required to use the field, they responded rudely.
She also indicated that police were unable to assist her in removing the visitors. Later in the meeting, Mayor Joyce Craig indicated that the Police Department has been stretched thin recently and that matters related to social distancing orders released by the Governor have been difficult to enforce.
“We need to be careful when we say that we don’t have the support of the police department,” said Craig on the matter. “Because they’re doing everything they can.”
A request made by Manchester Ink Link earlier this month to the Manchester Police Department for further comment about an incident recorded on the police log for May 16 at West field as a “special attention call” has not yet been answered.
Before the pandemic, the fields were rented by the district for outside groups, but with the Governor’s executive orders prohibiting groups of 10 or more in most situations, they have remained vacant outside of the interlopers and the primarily senior citizens walking around the tracks at both sites.
With Gill Stadium and Trinity’s new field at Derryfield Park closed to the public already, BOSC members seemed tentative to cut off the tracks at Memorial and West to Manchester residents acting responsibly due to out-of-towners’ unrelated bad behavior. Ward 8 BOSC Member Peter Perich noted that many senior citizens are limited in their walking options after the Mall of New Hampshire stopped providing a safe place to walk once the pandemic hit.
BOSC Members, Goldhardt, and Pariseau-Telge also expressed frustration on behalf of high school athletes and coaches who have been told they cannot use the fields, only to see the out-of-towners use them without authorization.
Ward 1 BOSC Member James Porter asked if the closure could occur for weekends alone since the out-of-towners did not seem to be coming to Manchester on weekdays, but the motion to give the authority to Goldhardt on the field closures came from Ward 9 BOSC Member Arthur Beaudry, who hoped that the new signs could rectify the problem moving forward.
The motion passed by a 10-4 vote. Beaudry joined Porter, Mayor Craig, Ward 3 BOSC Member Karen Soule, Ward 4 BOSC Member Leslie Want, Ward 5 BOSC Member Jeremy Dobson, Ward 6 BOSC Member Dan Bergeron, Ward 7 BOSC Member William Shea, Ward 10 BOSC Member Jane Beaulieu and Ward 11 BOSC Member Dr. Nicole Leapley voting in the affirmative.
Perich was joined by Ward 2 BOSC Member Kathleen Kelley Arnold, and At-Large BOSC Members Joseph Lachance and Jim O’Connell in opposition.
Ward 12 BOSC Member Kelly Thomas was absent.