Miller Field Override Vote Still in Limbo

By Sue Ellen Woodcock

There is little doubt about the need for a new Miller Field and the drainage work that needs to be done in the Lewis Lake area.

But the town council is not ready to put a debt-exclusion override vote on the ballot yet. After an hour and half public hearing Tuesday night the council needed a two-thirds vote to put the project on the April 12 State Primary ballot. The vote ended 5-4 with five councilors in favor and four against.

Councilors Linda Calla, Russ Sanford, Phil Boncore, Paul Varone and Nick DelVento voted to put the question on the ballot. Councilors Heather Engman, Rich Boyagian, James Letterie and Chairman Robert Driscoll Jr. were not ready to put it on the ballot.

“We have the engineering in place. The time is now to get this done as quickly as we can,” Varone said.

“It’s wise to spend more time and vet the project with the community,” Engman said.

“The information really just came out last week,” Boyagian said. “The concern is having the vote in six weeks. Is that enough time to get information to the public?”

“This has been going on for a year. It’s been out there. The vetting has been done,” Boncore said. “It’s the council’s duty to put it on the ballot.”

The issue is not the project, it’s the amount of detail, like what the proposed $8.4 million project is going to cost each household? And if the town or the school department will bare the burden of maintaining the field? There was also concern about the time frame for educating the public before the vote.

The vote may be scheduled for May 10. The other option was to wait until November, but many would like to see the project get going sooner rather than later.

Last week Town Manager James McKenna did receive a base design cost breakdown from the town’s engineering firm. Woodward & Curran gave an opinion of probable construction costs, but the final figures will not be determined until the bid for the job is awarded to a contractor.

Construction could begin in early 2017 and will take about eight months.

DPW Director Steve Calla said the town has received a grant from the Department of Conservation and Recreation to work on the drainage issues. The permitting process has also begun to address the failing tide gates. The town has already spent $200,000 in soil testing and engineering.

McKenna reminded everyone that the area of the project is a filled in salt marsh. In order to make the new multi-sport field it has to be raised up with two to three feet of fill. Some cost savings will also be recognized because North Shore Regional Vocational School will be the ones building the fieldhouse.

James Fabiano, chairman of the Miller Field committee, said “it’s time for the community to vote on this.” He noted that $8 million has been saved in interest payments from the new high/middle school project.

“I would hate to see this delayed like other past projects,” said coach and father of three boys, Robert Noonan.

Patricia McGee, a retired WHS track coach with 39 years of experience, said the track program is dwindling to nothing because the track at Miller Field does not meet MIAA standards. No track meet has been held there in years.

Community activist Kathleen Cappuccio said the town hasn’t heard enough detail about the project. She said when the middle/high school project went to an override vote the town knew.

“We had a lot of information to have an informed vote,” she said.

Carolyn Gagnon, a member of the Miller Field committee, said she was disappointed in the vote, but she hopes they put it out soon.

“I feel like we’re ready to go,” she said. “It will be an asset to the community.”

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