BOE to discuss new indoor athletic facility

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Thu., Sep. 22, 2011
Edward Widofsky, Thayer Redman and Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Ouellette consider the placement of the proposed indoor athletic facility at Manchester High School. Photo by Martha Marteney.
Edward Widofsky, Thayer Redman and Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Ouellette consider the placement of the proposed indoor athletic facility at Manchester High School. Photo by Martha Marteney.

On Sept. 1, the Building and Sites Committee of the Manchester Board of Education met with community volunteers Steve Gates, Thayer Redman and Edward Widofsky to hear an initial presentation on the need for an indoor athletic facility at Manchester High School.

Following up on the issues facing the indoor track team last fall, Gates, who noted he was on the first indoor track team at MHS some 40 years ago, said he decided to get the groundwork done for a new athletic facility, in case the town decided to move forward. Last fall, the insurance carrier issued safety concerns for students running in the high school corridors. As a result, the indoor track team travels to Star Hill in Tolland for practice, adding considerable cost and time for the team.

“We’re in New England,” said MHS physical education teacher and track and field coach Thayer Redman, “and inside most of the school year.” He noted that the high school’s gym and lockers rooms have not had improvements since the school was originally constructed in the 1950s, other than the addition of the Instructors of the Handicapped pool. The lack of space is equally limiting for the P.E. curriculum, sports teams and intramural sports, Redman said. He also noted that there is no space large enough for a school-wide pep rally that would help to develop community within the school. As a coach, Redman said he sees his role as reaching out to kids to give them an opportunity to take a chance and possibly change the path of the child’s life. “This type of facility will open up opportunities for many more kids,” he said.

Gates noted that there is no large facility in the area to meet the needs of the community. Large indoor sports events, such as wrestling matches and track meets, are generally held in New Haven. He noted that the proposed facility could be used by a variety of community groups, not strictly limited to sporting events. There is even the possibility of the facility becoming a revenue stream, or at least cost-saving for large events, such as graduation. The Parks and Recreation Department, Little League, other schools and the Manchester Senior Center have needs for such a space, said Gates.

Widofsky, an architect with Amenta/Emma Architects, developed a map of the current MHS grounds showing the proposed location of the approximately 50,000-square-foot facility near the corner of the gym area. The facility would include a 200-meter flat track with up to three basketball or volleyball courts inside the track loop, all with a sport-flooring surface. “It’s a wide-open area that could be used for various activities,” said Widofsky. A separate, but attached area would house the bathrooms, wellness area, concession stand and storage space. The proposed location would have very little impact on the existing fields.

“It’s progressing to the next level,” said Dr. Kathleen Ouellette, superintendent of schools, about two weeks after the initial presentation, noting that the next discussion will need to be with the full BOE or possibly a joint meeting with the Board of Directors. Issues that will need further discussion include the overall cost, estimated at $5 million, whether the town or the BOE would own and manage the facility, financing and reimbursement opportunities, and liability for use by third parties for non-school activities.

Ouellette has formally given her resignation and will be moving on to the same position for the town of Waterbury. “It’s a natural progression,” said Ouellette about her career move. Waterbury is the fourth-largest urban school district in Connecticut. She will be moving to be closer to her new job.

Ouellette expects that her leadership style will be her key benefit with the new district. She anticipates reviewing kindergarten through 12th grade, similar to what she did in Manchester. She also expects her experience with closing the racial achievement gap through accountability and benchmarks will be useful in Waterbury.

Although it will not be released until she begins her new position, Ouellette said she is developing an “entry plan” with timelines focusing on policies and procedures, as well as the overall organizational structure. She has been meeting with members of the Waterbury district to familiarize herself both with the people and the needs of the district. She stressed that these “meet and greets” were done after-hours, so as not to interfere with her work responsibilities in Manchester.

As for the next superintendent, Ouellette said she hopes that person will keep watch on the racial balance plan. She feels the current proposal is a strong one. The new superintendent will also need to keep the Highland Park Elementary School project on schedule. “Things seem to be running very well there,” said Ouellette. Lastly, she noted that the district is coming up to a new strategic plan, which will require input from the next superintendent.

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