PORTSMOUTH — Portsmouth High School needs a place for its swim team to practice and compete, while Roger Williams University (RWU) covets a track and field facility that’s up to NCAA standards.
Ongoing discussions between the two entities could lead to an agreement that would help both schools without costing taxpayers anything.
According to School Committee member David Croston, the talks were initiated more than a year ago and spurred on by the “T3” athletic upgrades at the high school, which began this spring. The project involves the installation of a new artificial turf cover on the football field and the resurfacing of both the running track and tennis courts, jobs that are nearing completion.
A track and field coach from RWU and the university’s vice president of student affairs, John King, visited the track for a walk-through several weeks ago.
“We’re five minutes away from an institution that basically needs a facility. We have the facility. They’re interested in the track and field, but not the turf field,” said Mr. Croston, adding that RWU would like to start using the facility by this fall. “We actually share the same athletic facility engineer, which is Gale Associates. Gale has been facilitating some of the discussions.”
Under the T3 project, the running track and the facilities for the jumping events have all been brought up to NCAA standards. “Our goal was to attract someone like Roger Williams and to be able to have a state meet,” said Mr. Croston.
The T3 upgrades do not include improvements to PHS’ facilities for the track and field throwing events — shot put, hammer, discus and javelin — located on the west side of Memorial Drive. The throwing venue meets neither interscholastic nor NCAA standards, Mr. Croston said.
However, a partnership with RWU could bring the throwing area up to NCAA standards for Division 3, under which the university competes.
In addition, the district is also looking to make improvements to a nearby softball field that players haven’t been able to use for two years due to drainage issues. Bringing back that field for at least a practice site is part of the discussions with RWU, Mr. Croston said.
Under this agreement, RWU would invest funds for capital improvements to the throwing and softball. Theoretically, Mr. Croston said, the facilities could be rented by RWU for $20,000 annually under a five-year contract. Assuming the improvements to the throwing venue and softball field cost about $80,000, the district would collect $20,000 in new revenue, he said.
“The reality is we’re not about to put more school money into athletic improvements,” said Mr. Croston, adding it’s possible that the softball field could be also used for baseball and rented out to local organizations.
In exchange for sharing its track and field facilities with RWU for meets and practices, PHS athletes could possibly have use of the university’s indoor swimming pool and new waterfront sailing facility. However, Mr. Croston was quick to point out that talks between officials from both schools are still in the preliminary stages.
At a recent meeting of the External Athletic/Playground Subcommittee, made up of School Committee members, several members said they were concerned about scheduling conflicts between PHS and RWU athletes.
“My concern is that our students could get bumped from the field that day,” said committee member John Wojichowski, adding that any contract with RWU should include language giving PHS students first priority in using the field.
Mr. Croston said Roger Williams tends to hold practices in the mornings when PHS students are in class, but there would still be some overlap.
“Both institutions realize the economy of sharing outweighs the angst of scheduling around each other,” he said Monday.
Mr. Wojichowski also said he had hoped the “T3” project would be more of a money-maker for the district. He noted that the district made a $1.6 million investment into the improvements plus another $500,000 in private donations.
“We agreed to make the track a college-size track,” he said. “When I voted for that I thought that was going to generate revenue. I didn’t vote for it to barter for a swimming pool or a sailing club. If (RWU is) going to use it, they should be paying to use it.”
Committee member Emily Copeland said she’d be interested in hearing Middletown’s experience with Salve Regina University. The university paid for Middletown High School’s turf field upgrade at Gaudet Field, which Salve uses for football, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey.
Mr. Croston said Middletown High School has priority over Gaudet Field, except on Saturdays.
Superintendent Ana Riley, meanwhile, said she’s using Middletown’s contract with Salve to help draft an agreement with Portsmouth and RWU. That will be discussed with the full School Committee at an upcoming meeting.
“None of that is in play yet,” said Ms. Riley, who is leading the discussions between Portsmouth and RWU.