Alumni Field at Cony High School in Augusta seen Sept. 8. A project to add artificial turf to the field gained Planning Board approval and officials are hopeful the facility could be ready in time for the fall football season. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — The Planning Board unanimously approved plans to install artificial turf at the main sports field at Cony High School, which officials anticipate could be ready for football by fall.

The project, due to the size of the 4-acre site that will be dug up and altered, required a major development review by the Planning Board. The board approved the project unanimously Tuesday night.

Work could start as soon as June and the new artificial turf field could be ready as soon as September or October. It could be in time for Cony High School football to play on the field this fall season, according to Leif Dahlin, community services director for the city.

A new grass multipurpose field will also be built as part of the project, on a site adjacent to the turf where former tennis courts were removed, just off Pierce Drive on the Cony and Capital Area Technical Center campus.

Dahlin said the new field will be a boon not just to football players but most student-athletes, whose time on outdoor fields is limited now because the natural fields are often too muddy to use.

Dahlin said replacing the grass field of what is now known as Alumni Field is something he and others have dreamed about for a decade. The field is to be renamed Fuller Field, in honor of philanthropist Robert G. Fuller Jr., who donated $1.64 million for the project.

“This was an aspiration and a dream back in about 2010, post-completion of the new high school,” Dahlin told board members Tuesday. “So we’ve worked on it several times over the years, but one of the big barriers has been the finances. And as you know, Mr. Robert Fuller came forth and gave us an incredible gift to make this happen. And we’re going to do it, and do it correctly. It’s going to be a tremendous asset, quantitatively and qualitatively, for the city of Augusta.”

Dahlin said the turf field will be used by all student athletes in the spring, allowing them to exercise outside much sooner than they currently are able to get out on Augusta’s grass fields. He said coaches, student athletes and their families are especially eager to get out and participate in sports, as things hopefully return to normal as the coronavirus pandemic wanes.

The grass multipurpose field will allow track and field events of javelin, shotput and discus-throwing to be moved there from the inside of the track, increasing the safety of track and field competitors and spectators.

“Those activities, if something goes wrong, can pose a serious risk to other individuals participating in track and field events,” said Matt Nazar, development director for the city. “So I’d suggest one area this will have a nice benefit, in addition to the turf field, is adding some safety to track and field events.”

City Manager William Bridgeo said recently when the project went out to bid the city received eight bids, with the winning, low bid of $1.62 million from a Georgia company, Sports Fields Inc. He said the company has a very strong track record in installing turf fields, its specialty.

He noted that’s well below the $2.2 million the city has available. So he said “wish list” items, including repainting the bleachers and improving the bathrooms and snack shack, could also be added back into the project plans.

The other funds for the project have already been dedicated to it and include $400,000 from city accounts that city councilors approved for the project in June 2019: $253,000 donated from a trust fund set up for the late Augusta philanthropist Elsie Viles, and $140,000 in funds reappropriated to the project from funds leftover from the 2006 construction of a new Cony High School. Also, about $280,000 was raised through Cony All Sports Boosters and others to help fund the project.

In response to Board Chairwoman Alison Nichols’ question of where the tennis courts would be moved, Dahlin said they hadn’t been functional for at least 10 years, and were unusable and unsafe. He said the six existing tennis courts near Buker Community Center are more than enough to meet the need in the city.

The sports fields are considered an educational use and allowed at the site under the city’s zoning ordinance, according to Betsy Poulin, city planner. She said there should be no additional impact on neighbors to the site from the project, which is not altering lighting or parking at the property.

Dahlin said maintenance of the new field will shift from the current mowing, fertilizing, seeding and watering for grass fields to “sweeping and kind of vacuuming it periodically. It is a carpet, effectively.”

The turf field will also be disinfected periodically, and once a year a company will inspect the turf’s stitches and ensure the mat under it meets G-force standards meant to help prevent concussions in student-athletes.

Dahlin said James Coffin, of Augusta-based Coffin Engineering, has worked to develop plans, the design, engineering and bid specifications for the project, at no charge to the city.

Dahlin said recreation and sports are educational activities.

“Kids are learning while having a good time, and they don’t even know it,” he said.

Board member Bob Corey praised Dahlin — who is retiring later this month after some two decades working for the city — for his work bringing the project, and numerous other recreational opportunities, to Augusta.

“Leif we’re going to miss you,” Corey said. “Thank you for everything and all the hours and time and sweat and tears you have put into this thing, because the city needs what you’ve done.”

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