With $8 million already approved by the state, city lawmakers now have to decide whether to bond for the last $3.6 million to make renovations to Bowen Field a reality.
The city has been looking for a way to upgrade Hillhouse high school’s football field for months. After the Board of Aldermen balked at borrowing as much as $16 million to renovate the field and surrounding facilities as part of a plan to build a new Hyde Leadership Academy, the state suddenly came though with $8 million for the project.
With an estimated total project cost of $11.6 million, the Board of Aldermen now needs to decide if the city should borrow the difference.
On Monday night, the superintendent of schools officially submitted a proposed ordinance amendment that would authorize the city to bond for $3.6 million to pay for the project. The matter now heads to committee for a public hearing ahead of a vote by the full Board of Aldermen.
The proposed renovations include a new artificial turf field and eight-lane track, renovation of the grandstands and gatehouse (pictured), new locker rooms and public restrooms, concession stands, and lighting for night games.
Board of Aldermen President Jorge Peren, has recently raised some questions about bonding for expenses. He said Monday night that borrowing for capital expenses like Bowen Field renovations is generally an appropriate use of bonding.
Perez said the superintendent’s proposal had only just been submitted so he hasn’t yet had a chance to make a final decision. But he noted that the city “went from funding it completely ourselves to funding only part of it.”
The city seems to have found a way to pay for the renovations “at a minimum expense to the taxpayer,” Perez said.
“We need to have a facility for Hillhouse,” he said. Athletics are “part of a good education.”
East Rock Aldermen Justin Elicker, who is exploring a run for mayor, has been a vocal opponent of bonding for city expenses, including more school construction. He said he’s looking forward to hearing more about the Bowen plan.
“I do have some concerns about the city bonding for matching funds,” he said. “It’s going to require some strong justification to bond for that money but it’s also really important to the neighborhood there … and for student athletes.”
Elicker said he worries that “we spent $65 million in debt service payments in the last budget that we could have spent on other programs. … While it’s great to receive a large chunk of money from the state, if we continue bonding for programs the city will continue to pay higher debt service and not be able to fund other programs in the future.”
Elicker said it’s too early to say if it would make sense to borrow the $3.6 million for Bowen. He said he would be convinced if either the renovations are “incredibly beneficial for New Haven kids” or the city can save money in the end by not have to pay for renting other fields or lots of maintenance to hold together crumbling facilities.