CUMBERLAND - The same firm that installed artificial turf at Gillette Stadium for the New England Patriots now has a $1 million contract to lay the same quality carpet at Tucker Field - in time for the Clippers' home football game against St. Raphael Academy on Oct. 4.
The new surface is the final upgrade to the Tucker Field complex across from Cumberland High School that serves not only the school but community youth groups.
The contract also includes replacing the surface of the running track.
Mayor Daniel McKee told the Town Council last week that when the project is finished "we will have a premier school of choice. I'd put our high school up next to any campus in Rhode Island, private or public."
He added, "This will give us a first-class image."
He noted that over the years, with the help of some $800,000 in state grants, the athletic complex has seen a new track, tennis courts, basketball court, bleachers, concession stand and more.
To pay for the big turf project, Cumberland has $200,000 from a state Department of Environmental Management grant, $166,000 left in the FY 2013 Tucker Field account, and $600,000 from a $1.5-million bond the town will sell.
The remaining $34,000 will be made up by private fund-raising, McKee is hoping.
The bond was approved by taxpayers five years ago for recreational facility upgrades, specifically Tucker Field, although installing artificial turf wasn't anticipated then.
The 2008 ballot question reads: ". . . to finance the acquisition, construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation and improvement of recreational facilities in the town and the furnishing and equipping thereof. . ."
But the project still isn't without some funding hiccups.
First off, bids on the project came in $300,000 or so higher than expected.
On top of that, $200,000 earmarked for the project in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget was moved over the School Department during budget talks in June.
As a result, some niceties were set aside: a red coating for the track and a logo, the parking lot re-do, and improvements at the baseball field, including lights.
McKee says he hopes all can still be accomplished by winning fund-raising support from local organizations as well as success during this fall's new round of state grants.
The successful firm of the three turf bidders is R.A.D. Sports of Rockland, Mass., which initially submitted a price of $1.57 million, including $246,000 to resurface the Tucker parking lot and $91,000 to restore the baseball infield and install lights for that field.
McKee told the Town Council last week that R.A.D. was selected after the firm and one other was invited to rebid a scaled-back version that the town is capping at $1 million.
The revised bid saves $30,000 by changing the track color from the traditional red to black. New goal posts at a cost of $6,430 were eliminated and instead the existing ones will be refinished. A "C" logo eliminated from the track will save another $6,500, and the irrigation system used to clean the field was eliminated to save $43,000.
Looking at the remaining bond money, McKee has his eye on Diamond Hill Park where a revamped music concert venue is awaiting state wetlands permission. Also there, the town hopes to redo the parking lot.
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McKee had hoped to also fund a student center at the site of the former Sher-Le-Mon civic building across from the high school, but characterized the project as the lowest priority.
McKee credited Parks & Recreation Director Michael Crawley and Town Council member Bill Murray with pushing the project forward at a pace fast enough to be ready for this year's football season.
They were stressing last week that the revised bid did not include a downgrade in the installation process or quality of the turf.
Said Murray, "The one goal we had was to get the best firm available because of failures we've seen at other locations. This is probably the best company we could have gotten to do the work. They did Gillette Stadium and they are top-notch.
"And when we asked them to rebid, we stayed with the top quality turf. We wanted to be sure we had the best."
Overseeing the work will be the Birchwood Design Group of Providence working with Pare Engineering of Lincoln. Cumberland retained the consulting firm for $58,000 in March to design the project.
Tucker Field, which several noted was built on wetlands in 1970, has been difficult to maintain over the years.
The new turf not only eliminates the need for mowing but will be usable even during rainstorms because of its extensive drainage system.
That makes it ideal for revenue-producing tournaments where back-to-back games and poor weather can render regular grass fields unplayable.
Crawley said other communities with artificial turf have been renting the field in those towns and making "hundreds of thousands of dollars," but he's anxious to make sure all Cumberland groups get the playing time they need and "let everyone in Cumberland use it first."
Cumberland High School Athletic Director Frank Geiselman is meanwhile making tentative plans to move the early fall soccer and field hockey games to the back soccer field while construction is finished up, but there are no lights so only one afternoon game a day is possible. During the interim, Geiselman said, the School Department will lose ticket sales collected only at night games.
The entire installation is guaranteed for eight years and the turf will need replacing, at a $400,000 cost, in 10 to 12 years.
Crawley said the town is already spending $5,000 a year on seed, loam and fertilizer, plus manpower "and the grass has never grown right."