Track runners and football players will have to wait until August 2015 to return to a renovated Bowen Field, as the city pursues a $4 million plan to haul away polluted debris to Ohio.
Schools Superintendent Garth Harries announced that news at Monday’s school board meeting at Hill Regional Career High School.
Bowen Field, which sits on Crescent Street adjacent to Hillhouse High School, has been closed to make way for a planned $11.6 million renovation, being paid for mostly by the state. Plans call for replacing the track, tearing down old bleachers, adding new lights, and replacing the grass football field with turf. The project will enable Hillhouse High’s football team, which uses Bowen as its home field, to start playing night games under the lights.
The renovations hit a snag last summer, when the city discovered pollutants called PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in the track and bleachers, according to schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith. The city last August shut down the park, including the locker rooms, football field, and the popular running track, which was open to the public.
The field has remained fenced off, and renovations have been stalled since then.
Construction was originally slated to begin this past winter, and wrap up by the fall of 2014. Now the district is shooting to reopen the park by August of 2015, Harries said.
Harries announced that news in response to concerns raised by Chandra Johnson, a 1983 Hillhouse High graduate whose son now plays on the ‘House football team. Johnson showed up at Monday’s school board meeting to plead to with the school board to speed up the project.
Since the fall of 2012, the Hillhouse football team has been exiled from its home field, Johnson said. The team has been practicing on nearby baseball fields and playing its games on borrowed turf in West Haven or at Wilbur Cross High.
Johnson, who lives in Newhallville, said she has seen how blighted buildings can drag down a neighborhood.
“Some things just sit and sit and sit,” she said. “I don’t want this to sit and sit and sit.”
“It just hurts my heart that it is sitting there,” Johnson told the board.
Johnson, an active parent, used to run a concession stand during home games. She has not been able to do so when Hillhouse holds games on borrowed turf in West Haven. She urged the board to “get a bulldozer” and clear the way for renovations.
Superintendent Harries agreed the project needs to move forward.
“That’s an important resource not just to the schools, but to the community,” he said.
“So, we’re going to get a football field?” Johnson replied.
Mayor Toni Harp stepped in with an update: She said the city has been seeking extra money to pay for the cost of remediation. Harp, who used to be chair of the powerful General Assembly Appropriations Committee in Hartford, said she plans to get the state to cover that cost.
Smith said the school district hired environmental consultant Eagle Environmental, Inc. “to conduct routine pre-construction testing for regulated building materials, including PCBs, asbestos and lead. Many of the samples tested did not detect any elevated levels of regulated building materials.” But the group did detect PCBs in several areas: in the track, in the caulk that holds the bleachers together, and in the paint on the exterior of the locker rooms. Because of the potential health hazards of those PCBs, the school district took the “precautionary step” of closing off the field, she said.
Smith said the district still needs to clear its remediation plan with the Environmental Protection Agency, then go to bid in search of a company to do the work. The work is estimated to cost $4 million, Smith said.
“That cost is mainly driven by the need to demolish in a certain way and to transport the contaminated debris and soil to an approved PCB landfill in Ohio,” Smith wrote in an email.
Construction was originally slated to begin this past winter and be done by fall of 2014, according to Smith. Harries said the district is now hoping to welcome Hillhouse High’s football team back to its home turf in time for the football season to begin in August of 2015.