By Neville Caulfield
“This will be a facility that everyone in town can use: students, neighbors, and retirees. Once it is complete, it will be a place that is alive and dynamic. I think that today we often fail to build the community spaces that bind a community together, but this will help do that,” said Robert Sullivan, leader of Go Vote.
Last year, a bond called Article 3 was brought forward to the Durham, Madbury, and Lee communities. Article 3 proposed a full upgrade and reconstruction of the Oyster River High School’s (ORHS) athletic facilities. The bond described a full outdoor track with a turf field in the center, as well as new baseball and softball fields. Unfortunately, the bond received a fifty six percent approval rate, just four percent short of passing. This year, the Oyster River community is fighting even harder for their athletic facilities, and the bond is back up for vote on March 8th, 2016.
Last year, a variety of circumstances factored into the close call vote with a total of 56.4% to 43.6%, only 135 votes short of passing. The athletics upgrade was heavily promoted in Durham, especially in the neighborhoods of student athletes themselves, and some canvassing was done in Madbury, but minimal promotion reached Lee. Lee is the most distant physically of the three towns, and it also has the fewest number of kids at ORHS. “Lack of awareness and voter apathy played a part in last year’s vote. There are many voters who were likely supporters who simply didn’t vote that day,” said Sullivan. If voters were not enlightened to the benefits of the upgrade, it’s unlikely that they would vote to increase their taxes, no matter the amount.
Not only did people simply not show up to vote, many who did were unaware of Article 3 and voted against it, uninformed of what the bond proposed. “There were some other bonds trying to be passed in Lee which were not very favorable, so people came out to vote ‘no’ for those, and then saw this other huge bond and didn’t really know about it so they just automatically voted no,” said Grace Heine (‘16), student representative for Article 3.
In addition to cost, there were also health concerns related to the turf field. Last year, in an effort to keep prices down, small crumbs of recycled tire, called crumb rubber, was proposed as the fill for the turf field, as it is the standard for turf fields across the world. “About a month before the vote, NBC ran a piece that expressed concern, although there is no scientific supporting evidence right now, that [crumb rubber] could be a carcinogen,” said Corey Parker, Athletic Director at Oyster River High School, “We took the feedback regarding the tire crumb rubber and the potential concern of that, and removed that completely.” The crumb rubber is just one of many changes from last year to this in an effort to pull the necessary 3.6% of the vote. The crumb rubber has been replaced by EPDM, a synthetic rubber which comes at a slightly higher price but is safer and eliminates concerns about carcinogens, as well as environmental issues.
Lights and bleachers were taken out of the bond, which reduced the price, but limited the time when the track and field could be used, and the ability to host large scale meets and games. The total cost as of now is $2.2 million, with $400,000 from the schools budget, and $300,000 will be privately fundraised, leaving 1.5 million to be paid over the next ten years. The tax increase breaks down to 40-55 dollars per year, or 4 dollars per month. In a way, locals are paying a sort of membership to get access to a brand new state of the art athletic facility. If the private fundraising is able to collect more than the required amount, that money will go towards saving for lights and bleachers.
Even without upgraded facilities, Oyster River’s athletic teams have excelled, and the upgrade would only make them better. “We have athletics comparable to the best schools in the state, but our facilities do not compare to those schools,” said Patrick O’Brien (‘17), cross country and track state champion, “The baseball field is extremely poorly aligned with the sun; you can’t see the ball in center field or when pitching at times. The soccer field doesn’t drain well at all, and isn’t flat. We absolutely deserve better,” said O’Brien. Oyster River High School is one of three schools in the state that does not have a track. The athletic programs at the high school and middle school have come a long way, and do not have the facilities to accommodate their growing numbers and blossoming programs. “This is a permanent solution to a long term problem. Our sports programs has grown significantly over the last 30 years and the fields haven’t grown to support the programs,” said Sullivan.
Many sports teams at ORHS have the opportunity to practice using the University of New Hampshire’s state of the art facilities, but this can become a problem when there is no time available. There is a heavy monetary cost that comes with this relationship as well. With the upgrade and implementation of the proposed facilities, student-athletes as well as members of the community would be able to exercise and be active on their own facilities instead of having to wait for the college teams to finish practice. “It’s an opportunity I’m really excited for. Since I play both soccer and track it would be such a huge convenience to have both facilities just steps away, instead of having to use UNH facilities,” said Devan McClain (‘19).
With a proposed budget of 1.5 million, as opposed to last year’s 1.7 million, the upgrade would not just build a track. The people behind Article 3 have designed an entire upgrade to the fields in the back of Oyster River High School. The primary element will be a full 400 meter track, equipped with all elements to host every field event, with an artificial turf field in the center. Both the baseball and softball fields will be reconfigured and upgraded. “I can say confidently that all 37 teams will utilize this facility,” said Parker.
The track will not just be used by athletes in the high school, but by anyone in the community with the desire to get active. The high school and middle school’s physical education classes will have access to the facilities, as well as the Oyster River Youth Association. After construction, specific hours will be worked out for when it is open to the public to use, most likely all mornings and certain afternoons, and in the off seasons. “The goal would to be adding two or three high school track meets per year, two or three middle school meets, and getting on the rotation for hosting state meets,” said Parker. Hosting meets would bring in revenue and attention to the facility as well as the school.
If the bond gets passed, there will be a meeting on the following day to discuss a time-frame, and construction will begin as soon as the weather allows. The projected time of completion is early April, 2017, just in time for spring sports and a summer full of outdoor activity. “Fitness and sports are important parts of the curriculum that teach discipline, fitness, teamwork, and time management. I have looked at this project very closely and think it is the low cost solution to a real need,” concluded Sullivan.