Published August 29. 2014 4:00AM Updated August 29. 2014 11:27PM
Groton - A consultant outlined a master plan this week that would create an athletic complex on the Merritt property off Route 1, including four regulation-sized fields, rest rooms, a playground and concessions at a cost of $7.37 million.
The Town Council received the preliminary plan on Tuesday but did not take action. Councilors are expected to discuss the report more in the future.
The master plan calls for one artificial turf field and three natural turf fields, but it offered two less-expensive options: Replacing the artificial turf field with grass for a total project cost of $6.2 million, or eliminating one of the fields entirely for a total cost of $5.6 million.
Cars would access the complex from Route 1, near the highest point at the crest of the hill on Fort Hill Road, to allow for the best line of sight.
The Representative Town Meeting provided money for a plan during the last fiscal year, to try to deal with the shortage of playing fields for high school and other sports.
Chad Frost, of Kent + Frost Landscape Architecture in Mystic, told the Town Council Tuesday that Groton does not have enough rectangular fields, and teams are using semi-private fields and other fields that aren't suitable for sports because surfaces are uneven and compact.
Most injuries to players occur with ground contact, and there should be some give in the turf when someone falls, to avoid injuries such as ligament tears, Frost said.
Saying open grass is the same as a playing field is "kind of like saying a pond is equal to a swimming pool," he said.
Fields in good shape are also being overused, which will lead to a rise in maintenance costs, he said.
"Fields can only be used so much, especially grass fields," Frost said. "They need rest."
Councilors said they see the need but are concerned by the cost.
"There's certainly a need for fields in this town," Councilor Bruce Flax said. "The question is, how do you substantiate to the taxpayers that there's a benefit to the cost that they'd be paying?"
Frost said the athletic complex could bring in money. It could be used to host tournaments with up to 56 teams, and families that travel more than an hour to a tournament typically stay in the local area, he said. They spend $985 per visit, according to an economic study cited in the report.
"It's real money and it has real impact," Frost said. Groton also has the advantage of having a known tourist destination in Mystic, so families may opt to turn a tournament visit into a short vacation.
"There is a direct cost to taxpayers, and it is not cheap," Frost said. "But there is also a direct benefit to the entire community."
With the current supply of fields, more than 2,100 players are using nine town fields, 14 school fields and 12 semi-private fields, the report says.
The greatest need is for more multiuse, rectangular fields, where demand exceeds capacity by 117 hours per week, the report says.