Lights closer to reality at Avon turf field after split finance board vote
By Ted Glanzer
AVON – Lights are close to becoming reality at the new Avon High School synthetic turf field.
The town’s Board of Finance in late November approved contributing up to $235,000 of the $375,000 project to install light poles and lights around the field.
Voters approved the $3 million synthetic turf field at a December 2018 referendum and included conduits and light pole fixtures, but not lights.
A group of fundraisers named ACORN has raised $140,000 of the funds, with the remaining funds coming from the town (though the finance board encouraged ACORN to continue to raise funds).
ACORN, according to Town Manager Brandon Robertson, asked the Town Council at a special meeting earlier in November to help install the lights, to which the council agreed.
In a 4-2 vote, with one abstention, the finance board agreed to appropriate some of the $465,000 the town received back as a premium from the sale of bonds used to finance the turf project.
Robertson said the premium funds the town received back could be used for one of two things: fund a portion of the capital project, which in this case would include the lights, or be used to retire debt service.
During the meeting, Robertson noted if a portion of the funds the town received back weren’t used for the lights, they’d be used entirely for debt service, which could mean offsetting a tax increase or additional capital spending.
Robertson said the Town Council voted in favor of the use of the funds because the timing was right and there might not be another opportunity to get the project done.
Town Council Chairwoman Heather Maguire told the finance board she wouldn’t have endorsed the project if she didn’t believe the town could handle it financially.
Finance board members Cathy Durdan, Chairman Tom Harrison, Ellen Retelle and Cathy Salchert voted in favor of the appropriation, with members Margaret Bratton and Katrina Marin voting against. Ken Birk abstained.
According to the meeting minutes, Bratton said when she voted in favor of the project going out to referendum, she agreed with the bases and conduits for the lighting being installed as part of the portion that the town paid for. However, she said she was uncomfortable funding the lights, noting that businesses and individuals were having a hard time, and other things would be viewed as a higher priority to residents.
Marin agreed with Bratton, noting that the full impact of the pandemic still wasn’t known and the most fiscally responsible thing to now was to pay off debt with the premium funds. Marin said ACORN should continue with its fundraising and questioned why the lights weren’t included in the project to begin with. She said she was told ACORN would take responsibility for the lights.
Other members, however, supported the project.
Salchert expressed reservations over approving funding for the project after it had been out of the public’s eye since the summer. In addition, she said she was troubled over voting on such a high-profile project just days before Thanksgiving, but that was best for the community.
Retelle agreed that it felt rushed, but that it was important to the high school students and the town.
Durdan said that, given the support the lights project received from emails from supporters and the comments she heard that evening, she also supported the project.
ACORN, for its part, continues to push to raise an additional $15,000 through its Lights on Avon campaign through the end of the year. As of Dec. 8, the organization had raised $10,000 of its goal.
People may buy bricks or donate directly at lightsonavon.org.