New athletic complex on horizon

He’s running down the field, eyes on the ball. He sticks out a leg to win the ball, and snap! The entire track goes silent, and the only sound is his cries of pain. It’s a scene that student-athletes at ARHS have seen too often. Another promising athlete cut down by the field with a season ending injury.

This time, a broken femur. Other times, torn ACLs, MCLs, concussions, and other injuries picked up from the notoriously bad varsity field.

J.B. Mills, quarterback of the ARHS football team, has played on these fields since fourth grade, and said that in all those years, the fields have “never been impressive.” While he’s never been injured on the field, he’s tripped many times on the dirt and mud, which he said makes it very hard to throw accurate passes.

Mills, who is also a baseball player, said that while the baseball diamond was recently renovated, “There’s still standing water when it rains. The outfield is terrible, too, and you can’t get a good bounce because the grass is so long and rarely gets mowed.”

These poor conditions have led the school and the town to propose a major renovation of the high school fields.

The process, which, according to Athletic Director Rich Ferro, officially began in the spring of 2017 with a town planning group, has culminated in a final public outreach meeting in early October and a final master plan report.

Three potential models have been drawn up by Weston & Sampson, an architecture and engineering firm that has completed projects on sports complexes across the Northeast.

Featuring new soccer and football fields, new baseball and softball diamonds, a new field hockey and lacrosse field, and a new track, the complex would be complemented by walking paths, a fitness circuit, new basketball courts, a re-done playground with an added splash area and picnic area, and a new pool house that would double as a storage facility for the fields.

The project would also expand to the Amherst Regional Middle School and other recreation areas throughout the town.

Once there is approval from the communities involved (Amherst, Pelham, Leverett, and Shutesbury), Mr. Ferro said that there would be a concrete timetable for the first phase.

“It would take between a year and a year and half to get all the permits, get all the materials, and build the field,” said Mr. Ferro. “If we were able to get this approved for the next fiscal year, that would be when we could start on all the permitting. Best case scenario, this could be done by 2021.” Ferro added that he hopes ARHS teams will be able to use one of the nearby college facilities during construction.

Each phase, however, comes with a hefty price tag. For the first phase of the preferred plan alone, the cost of only renovating the existing track and adding bleacher seating would be 2.8 million dollars.

For the entire first phase, the cost ranges from a low of 3.9 million dollars to a middle of 4.6 million dollars, and a high of 6.9 million. While the school district itself can’t bankroll the entire project, Mr. Ferro is hopeful that other sources will chip in. “We’re looking at CPA money, which is Conservation Preservation Act money from the town, fundraising through alumni, and potential sponsorships. There’s a lot of money out there now if you’re willing to put certain colors on your field for USA soccer and USA football,” he said.

Nevertheless, a big chunk would have to come from the regional school district in the form of a bond. “I’m more optimistic now than I was a year ago, but I’m cautious still,” said Mr. Ferro.

The fields haven’t been renovated since 1998. David Stratton, the Athletic Director of Agawam High School, was part of a turf installation process in that community, and said that turf fields are a really good investment.

“I definitely think that if a school can pull it off it’s worth doing,” said Stratton. “I don’t have to cancel if it’s raining. [Sometimes] we get heavy rain until 2:00 p.m. and it stops, [but] I can still play. There’s no cancel.”

It is very hard for a high school to keep and maintain grass fields. “In a regular year, our field could handle everything,” said Mr. Ferro. “This year, with all the rain, it can’t handle all the teams. The issue with a new grass field would be that you can’t play on it for a year or two.”

With turf fields, Amherst High athletes would no longer have to worry about their practices or games being cancelled, injuries would be reduced, and they would be playing on a great field all the time.