Tiger Hollow renovation costs concern selectmen
A million dollars, a million and a half, maybe a million eight hundred thousand … .
That’s how much renovations at Tiger Hollow — new artificial turf for two fields, plus a rebuilt track — will likely need from the town capital budget in the next few years.
“We were were told it was never going to cost anybody anything,” Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said.
When Tiger Hollow’s founding group did its original fundraising, starting in 1998, the concept was to finance the construction of an artificial turf field through private donations — as Kozlark recalled.
But to assure donors the project they were giving to wouldn’t be allowed to deteriorate for lack of adequate maintenance — a complaint that had been raised against some of the town’s grass fields — the town was asked to commit to making an annual contribution to long-term replacement of the artificial turf, expected to be needed every 10 years.
The town has been setting aside $63,000 a year in sinking funds for the replacement of turf on two Tiger Hollow fields, an approach designed to avoid a big hit — if money gets voted down when the projects are needed — on taxpayers.
There’s $43,000 a year going into a fund for Tiger Hollow 1, the main field in the stadium. And a second sinking fund for the replacement of artificial turf at Tiger Hollow 2, the former football practice field now used for a variety of events, gets $20,000 a year from taxpayers.
Over two decades private fund-raising has put $4.5 million into building Tiger Hollow stadium and a series of capital projects and upgrades at the complex, according to a Nov. 6 presentation to the Board of Selectmen from Jill Bornstein, president of Tiger Hollow Inc., and Ridgefield High School Athletics Director Dane Street.
Private funds covered most of the original construction of the artificial turf field and stadium for about $2 million, and the list of enhancements since then includes a second turf field (Tiger Hollow 2), a major field lighting project, an increase in seating capacity, stairways down to the field and, most recently, new video scoreboards at Tiger Hollow and also at the RHS gym and softball field.
“$4.5 million in investments,” Bornstein told the selectmen.
But anticipated future costs were the main point Bornstein and Street were there to make. The selectmen took the presentation as a look-ahead to requests that will be coming at them in the budget season this January, and in future years.
Two fields, one track
According to the presentation:
The main Tiger Hollow field, in the stadium, is in line for replacement of its artificial turf next summer, June 2020, at a projected cost of $817,000.
Tiger Hollow 2, the second artificial turf field, will be due for replacement in 2023, at a cost projected at $841,000.
The runners’ track — which Bornstein said is not part of Tiger Hollow Inc.’s replacement program, or among its responsibilities — is in pretty desperate need of work, she said. Renovations are calculated to cost $555,000, and needed in the coming year, she said.
Replacing the artificial turf after 10 years was originally expected to cost about $400,000 per field, Bornstein said, and “now it’s looking like $800,000.”
“That’s a hell of an escalator,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.
The two sinking funds are expected to cover $200,000 of each field’s renovation work, with the remainder — $617,000 for Tiger Hollow I, and $641,000 for Tiger Hollow 2 — shown as “amount needed in BOS capital budget” in a financial sheet Bornstein gave the selectmen.
The $555,000 for the track was also shown as being covered by the selectmen’s capital budget.
“The track, we’d have to look outside Tiger Hollow Inc.,” Bornstein told the selectmen.
“There’s a lot of people who used that track who have never contributed. To do something like that we’d have to get a broader coalition.”
The selectmen didn’t sound eager to take on over $1.2 million in Tiger Hollow renovation costs, never mind another $555,000 to redo the track.
“What you’re proposing isn’t something I could accept, in total. That’s a lot of money,” said Selectwoman Barbara Manners.
“I remember, when Tiger Hollow was proposed, it wasn’t going to cost us — except for $43,000 a year.”
Manners questioned Bornstein’s premise that Tiger Hollow and its track are facilities widely used by townspeople.
“The idea that this is a town facility,” she said. “It’s used by the schools, and parks and rec. I don’t think the townspeople, the seniors, use Tiger Hollow that much, if at all.
“To ask the taxpayers to come forward with all this money — they have their priorities,” Manners said.
Kozlark also had praise — and cost concerns.
“It’s one of the crown jewels in the tiara we all talk about,” she said. “But it costs a lot of money.”
Tiger Hollow Inc. recently completed a scoreboard project that added an electronic scoreboard with video capabilities to the stadium, and also put new scoreboards in the RHS gym and softball field.
“What was the rationale to not look at using the $260,000 for the scoreboard on the track?” Kozlark said.
“We do project-specific fund raising,” said Bornstein.
“It wasn’t like Tiger Hollow was sitting on all this money and decided to use it for a scoreboard,” Street said.
Bornstein also reiterated that “the track was never part of Tiger Hollow Inc.”
First Selectmen Marconi seemed a bit less skeptical than some of his colleagues.
“It is a town obligation,” he said later in an email response to The Press,
Whether the money was sought as part of the school board’s budget or through the selectmen and Board of Finance, he said, there’s work to be done.
“We all need to address the issue eventually,” Marconi said.
“The numbers do sound high, but it will have to go out to bid when the time arrives.”
How many events take place at Tiger Hollow?
“On any given day we have four or five — girls soccer, field hockey, boys soccer, followed by a youth event, or a rental,” said Street, the athletics director.
While the grass fields could support about 80 events a year, he said, the two artificial turf fields at Tiger Hollow host about 600 events a year.
And, the facility brings in money, Street said. The RHS athletics budget is about $1.5 million a year. That includes with $1 million from the Board of Education’s taxpayer-funded budget, plus $400,000 in revenue that is a combination of “pay to play” fees paid by student athletes and “gate receipts” from games.
“Literally, it’s impossible — the amount that we use that field— to maintain it,” Street said.
The selectmen wondered about the cost projections. Was there room for savings?
“Matching the existing” on the main artificial turf field would cost about $495,000, Street said, and an upgrade to the latest top-of-the-line artificial turf surface would cost $625,000.
Street also said that a long-running contriversy that had raised cancer concerns about the crumb-runner infill used in many artificial turf fields — including the two in Rdgefield — seemed to have died down.
He mentioned that some towns, such as Wilton, had gone with replacements that involved a combination of coconut husks, corn husks and cork. Some kids, he added, have nut allergies and might have difficulties with natural substitute products.
While generous donors and have helped Tiger Hollow Inc. achieve great success fund raising, Bornsteain told the selectmen, the group can’t be expected to do everything.
“To ask 30 people to refund it every 10 years is not appropriate,” Bornstein said.
She also mentioned that Tiger Hollow Inc. has a major public fund-raiser coming up with its Dec. 6 Holiday House Tour.
“What hasn’t been said,” Marconi suggested, was that Tiger Hollow’s artificial surfaces “negated” years and years of high maintenance costs for grass fields, and because they can be used so much more heavily than grass fields, they’d allowed the town to avoid the cost of building another field.
Near the end of the presentation Kozlark asked Bornstein if Tiger Hollow Inc. could promise some private fund raising to go along with any public contributions that might come out of the town budget process and reduce the costs to taxpayers.
“This is a big nut for us to crack,” Kozlark said. “…Between the turf and the track we’re at $1.5 million. We have ash trees all over town that are falling down.”
“I can’t personally commit,” Bornstein said. “I have to go back to my board.”
Bornstein and Street left without asking the selectmen for any vote or commitment. But the Nov. 6 discussion gave the board a glimpse of what may be coming in budget season.
As the Tiger Hollow representatives packed up their papers, Marconi said: ”Thank you for the reality check.”