By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Plans to install a synthetic turf field at Page Park can now move forward after the school district’s operation committee recently approved the use of additional parking at Bristol Eastern High School if the project ultimately gets approved.
Last week, the newly formed Synthetic Fields Committee met with the Operations Committee to review the proposed plan, which includes the installation of a turf field that can be used for lacrosse, football and soccer. Last Wednesday, the school board approved the request from the Synthetic Fields Committee to use parking spaces of the King Street entrance to Bristol Eastern if the turf field is located at Page Park.
The Synthetic Fields Committee was appointed by the mayor last year in search of an area in Bristol for a synthetic multipurpose field. After looking at a number of locations from Chippens Hill to Memorial Boulevard to West Bristol, the committee narrowed the option down to Page Park. Funding for the project will need approval from the council and board of finance.
Ed Swicklas, superintendent of Parks and Recreation, who serves as chairman of the Synthetic Fields Committee, said the committee considered Page Park to be better suited for the community compared to other locations brought to the table.
Swicklas said if the field is approved for Page Park, the city would need additional parking, and the most logical place for additional lots is at Bristol Eastern along the King Street entrance, which has 94 spaces. Currently, Page Park has 40 parking lots, but the plan is to add 125 spaces near the facility.
Former city councilor Dave Mills who also serves on the Synthetic Fields Committee, said most of the activity at the park for major events will take place when school is not in session, mostly during nights and weekends.
“An artificial field, especially a multi-purpose field, with the addition of softball and baseball, will eliminate a lot of problems, give us a lot of additional time,” said Mills. “We have a lot of fields in the city, but most of them are not in good condition.”
Board of Education commissioner Karen Vibert, who serves on the Operations Committee, expressed concern about overflow of parking, as many evening events take place at Bristol Eastern. A question was brought up about how to monitor the cars parked in the King Street entrance.
“I’m still uncomfortable with the concept of overflow parking coming down to the lower lot even when it’s not full,” said Vibert. “We have students who park there, and I’m concerned about overflow of drivers coming in when we have students driving there. Safety is a big concern here.”
Although Vibert supported the installation of a synthetic field, she was concerned about students crossing the street from the King Street entrance to Page Park.
“That’s a dangerous intersection,” said Vibert.
Swicklas said part of the proposed plan includes opening up access roads to Page Park, but the committee will consult with the state about that issue.
“That definitely would be a state issue,” said Swicklas. “We’d have to do a traffic study on that, too.”
Mills added that one solution would be to hire a crossing guard while people are walking from the parking lot at Bristol Eastern to Page Park.
“It might be an additional expense, but it…could be done,” said Mills.
School Board Chairman Larry Amara said he supported the installation of a synthetic field and the use of the parking on King Street, but added the committee should continue communicating with school officials so they can troubleshoot together any future issues (like overflow parking) if the plan moves ahead.
“In my view, it’s a no-brainer, but…there has to be a lot of conversation,” said Amara. “If you include [the school system], maybe we can make things smoother. If you want a synthetic field, we should be able to figure out how to do it, both sides working together and coming up with a plan…that is going to help all of these kids.”
Mills said dialogue between the school board and Parks Department is critical. He noted that one recommendation brought up is using one entity to oversee the fields.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO