Athletic director suggets plan for lighted turf field

Neither inclement weather nor darkness will deter students looking for time on athletic fields if the Board of Trustees agrees to construct the lighted artificial turf field that has been proposed by Harry Sheehy, director of Athletics.

Though difficult financial times and a bevy of construction projects to which the College has already committed itself threaten to put the project on hold, Sheehy is optimistic that the turf field will gain approval first from the Committee on Priorities and Resources (CPR), which will begin discussing the matter next month, and then ultimately the Board of Trustees at a meeting later this year.

Part of this optimism is derived from the project’s relatively low price tag. Sheehy suggests the development would cost somewhere between $1.5-2 million, a figure far less than the approximately $37 million allocated to the development of a new Baxter Hall.

“In discussions I’ve had with CPR, people there have agreed that this is a need and they want to look at it in more depth,” said Sheehy. “I think there is a sense that this was not an outrageous proposal financially – certainly in comparison to other projects it is not – or that it somehow fills only a short term purpose that is not needed.”

Moreover, Sheehy is confident that the proposed construction will not become “just a project for varsity field hockey” but will benefit of the entire community. Indeed, Sheehy was anxious to emphasize to the parties involved in approving the project that the turf field’s use would not be strictly limited to varsity athletes.

“I think we’re going find all sorts of community uses for the field,” Sheehy said. “The rationales we’ve put out there all go in the direction of making a better community for athletes, non-athletes, club athletes and the student body at large.

“I think more non-athletes will step on this field than varsity athletes, actually. I think we’re going to have a lot of students utilizing this. We could see the student body utilizing it during Winter Carnival especially.

“We have tried to think about the many uses for the field but we think the community will come up with many more uses than we have,” he said.

This community-oriented sentiment echoes the language of the memo, which catalogues the benefits from the standpoint of the varsity-athlete, club-sport athlete, intramural athlete, non-athlete and local resident. The memo also notes that other NESCAC schools – namely Middlebury, Bowdoin, Bates, Hamilton and Trinity – have already built lighted turf fields.

So far, at least, the community-first approach has been met with tempered enthusiasm from parties involved in the final decision. While expressing appreciation of the project’s value, members of the administration emphasized that the College must be prudent with its financial commitments.

“There are lots of good reasons to do this project,” said Cappy Hill, provost of the College. “It would benefit our varsity, IM and club teams, as well as the local community. There is significant excess demand for the field house, and this would relieve those pressures. It would really benefit our spring and fall athletics programs, from varsity teams to PE classes.

“In making a recommendation/decision, CPR, senior staff and the Board will take into account the number of projects we currently have in the pipeline, the financial situation of the college and the need for this particular project.

“The College has experienced large losses on its financial assets over the last three years,” Hill said.

“But because we managed our resources fairly conservatively during the 1990s, not increasing spending as rapidly as our assets were increasing, we have weathered the recent declines without significant difficulty.Â

“Nonetheless, the costs will obviously play a role in the decision, along with the perceived benefits.”

CPR member Colin Adams also indicated that financial concerns would be kept in mind as that body readies a recommendation to pass to the Board. Though he said that currently he had no sense of whether or not CPR will decide that the College is in a position to allocate the necessary funds, Adams did concede that Williams “has a lot on its plate right now” in terms of other projects and cited the dismal performance of the stock market as a factor that would affect the short termfuture of the proposal.

Like Hill, however, Adams was also quick to point out the many different benefits that a turf field would offer to the community.

Should the CPR and later the Board give the project the green light, Sheehy said he would like to hire a consultant to help the College place the field in the best possible setting. The most likely areas would be Upper or Lower Cole Field; the field behind the Torrence Hunt Tennis Center is another option.

One location that seems unlikely at present is Weston Field. Developing the field at that site would require relocating the baseball field, a prospect which Sheehy seemed unenthusiastic about.

As for what kind of turf field the College would pursue – Astroturf, Field Turf and NexTurf are the three most popular – Sheehy indicated that the turf decision would be made pending project approval by the Board.