North Haven school board creates fee for town residents to use turf athletic fields

The turf fields at North Haven Middle School.

The Board of Education has set a fee for town groups to rent the turf athletic fields at North Haven Middle School and adjacent athletic complex, as residents turned out to continue discussion of an often contentious issue.

Board members recently agreed to charge town and parent organizations $10 for each child expected to play a sport on the fields during a given season, other than for baseball and softball, with or without lights. A $20 fee for each young participant will be assessed for those sports.

Randi Peterson, a board member and chairman of the athletic ad-hoc committee that was formed to consider the issue, presented an overview of the proposal at the board’s Dec. 13 meeting.

She said the fees, assessed alongside those for groups from outside North Haven, are intended to cover the cost of preparing and maintaining the fields, which has been borne to date by the Board of Education.

For every 100 hours of field use, Peterson said the board has to pay approximately $1,000 for custodians to maintain them.

Peterson said the board is not looking to profit from the decision, noting that the subcommittee had considered setting a per-hour fee but determined the cost would be exorbitant for North Haven residents.

“We’re not looking to make money off of our families,” said Peterson.

The board and town government have discussed shifting oversight of the fields to the community, which does not charge for the use of facilities like the soccer field on Ridge Road, but no agreement has been finalized, Peterson said.

The idea of creating a fee for the use of district fields had been discussed for years, Peterson said. Diminished funding from the state has made the issue more pressing, she said.

“I don’t feel — and this is my opinion — that we can take away from our educational budget, lessen it any more, to cover the use of our facilities for this Group 2 group,” said Peterson.

Town and parent associations are known as “Group 2” in the board’s policy that oversees the use of school facilities by the community.

Residents weighed in on the issue during a period of public comment, which board Chairman Anita Anderson said was moved ahead of the vote based on the emails and calls she had received.

North Haven Youth Football & Cheerleading President David Mikos said the board had been inconsistent in charging for the use of other district facilities — a claim that Anderson rejected — and argued that it should have provided more financial data before putting the fee forward.

Resident Dave Montano said the policy created an inappropriate division between town and district facilities, both of which are used by North Haven residents. He said the decision should be made by the town as a whole.

“I don’t think we can look at this with blinders and say this is just a Board of Ed. decision that we need to make. We need to make it as a town,” said Montano. “You really need to step back and think ‘are we doing what’s best for the town of North Haven,’ not just the Board of Ed.”

Selectwoman Sally Buemi commended the athletic committee for its work and said the option approved by the board was appropriate.

“I think that the $10 is a fair and reasonable compromise, as far as just covering expenses,” said Buemi. “It is reasonably affordable, so that it will continue to encourage youth participation in sports.”

Peterson said the policy could be amended in the future as the district assesses the financial impact.