By Erin Post

A proposal to expand outdoor sports facilities at Harwood Union High School will not be ready for voters this school year, the school board has decided.

The move to hold off on any action hinged in part on discussions with a neighboring resident of the school, which never managed to get off the ground, said school board member and facilities committee chair Dave Rapaport.

Members of the board's facilities committee had hoped to speak with Alice Delong and her family about using part of the property near Delong's residence for a project involving additional practice fields and expanded track and field capabilities.

Although the school purchased the property a few years ago, terms of the sale stipulated that the school would not use the land until Delong no longer lived there, Rapaport said.

Negotiations to alter those terms were delayed throughout the fall, Rapaport said, and then never materialized.

"Her family has been unwilling to talk to us about making any use of the property," he said, adding that most of the options the school had been considering involved at least part of the Delong property.

Delong could not be reached for comment this week.

After it became clear that permission to use the land would not be granted, the board discussed alternatives at their December 6 meeting. One idea was to spend $5,000 on a property survey, to be completed this winter in time for the school to meet the mid-January deadline for filing a bond proposal for Town Meeting Day.

But after some discussion over the course of two meetings, the board and administrators decided there wasn't enough time.

"We weren't able to get a survey done," Rapaport said.

And instead of moving forward with a scaled-down project, the board decided it would be best to wait, reconsider their options and present a more comprehensive proposal to voters at a later date, Rapaport said.

Sue Duprat, Harwood's athletic and activities director, said with a larger proposal off the table, any immediate improvements to the outdoor facilities depend on the coming year's budget.

The finance committee and administrators recently discussed installing temporary curbing on the track and converting the pole vault to triple jump pits as some possibilities to consider including in the budget.

Although the delays are a disappointment, Duprat said it's only a matter of time until the school board and administrators bring a proposal to voters.

"I'm confident something will happen," she said.

The facilities committee, composed of board members, administrators, coaches and parents, continues to research other options, Rapaport said.

"The facilities committee felt that there were not a lot of good choices other than using some of the Delong property, though we would have only needed a small part of it," he said. "It's not out of the question that we could look at some other ideas, but we may just have to wait until the property becomes available."

With the popularity of Harwood's athletic programs ever growing, the push has been on to figure out a way to accommodate games, events and practices.

According to information from the school, Harwood now has nearly six times the number of student athletes as when the school was built 40 years ago. And with the exception of the track, which was added in the 1980s, the outdoor facilities have not been "significantly upgraded" since the school's founding. 

Harwood now has just one regulation-size soccer field to accommodate 10 teams, and the track is inadequate to host state meets, according to information from the school.

Because the baseball field doubles as a soccer field in the fall, the pitcher's mound must be removed and replaced every year. In addition, the school lacks a regulation-size softball field and requires more fields to accommodate the lacrosse and field hockey teams. The tennis team has to practice and play offsite as well.

The cost of proposals the school board had been considering ranged from about $4.7 million to $1.8 million.

The more expensive plan called for creating two new practice fields, three tennis courts and an exhibition field. The second plan included funding for improved maintenance of existing fields. In addition, wiring and plumbing would have been installed for future fields and the baseball field would have been moved.