Members of the Fairhaven Finance Committee and the Fairhaven School Committee are at odds about the move to use more than $700,000 for extra add-ons to the high school's turf project.

Last year, town meeting approved $1.2 million for the project that would change the natural grass field at Fairhaven High to an artificial turf. An additional $200,000 would be provided by alumni for a total of $1.4 million being allocated to the athletic field.

However, Lisa Plante, Vice President of the Fairhaven Finance Committee, said that the project currently underway down at the field has ballooned into much more.

"I looked through the plans yesterday and noticed it is a much larger scope of a project than what Town Meeting approved," she said. "In all my time as a town meeting member, when we vote on something the article is voted by word. You can't change things like this."

Michael Rock/Townsquare Media
Michael Rock/Townsquare Media

School Committee member Brian Monroe disagrees. The extra money for the alternates to the project is coming from an unusual surplus in the school committee's budget. That surplus, Monroe said, was caused by the pandemic.

"Heading into last school year, no one knew what we would be facing, but at the end of the year, the district saw a surplus of money due to the fact that we didn't have things like art, music, athletics in the fall, and band," he said. "There were teachers that decided to take a leave of absence to wait out the pandemic at home. It was, hopefully, a once-in-a-lifetime event. When a surplus like this happens, it is a 'use it or lose it' situation. We aren't allowed to carry over the money into future years. We decided that our kids at the high school deserve the best facility that we can possibly give them."

The extra $700,000 will see new lights installed that are up to code, a new fence around the field, and wraps for the bleachers.

Monroe said that Fairhaven High is actively competing with schools like Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech and New Bedford High School for Fairhaven and Acushnet students. The district is also in competition with schools like Old Rochester Regional for school choice.

"Things like this matter to our kids and other prospective students," Monroe said. "I have no regrets. I stand by my votes. I've got nothing to hide. I would proudly say it to anyone and everyone that wants to talk to me about it. I would do this all again in a heartbeat."

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Plante thinks it was inappropriate to change the project so dramatically without input from the town.

"The scope of the project changed, the funding of the project changed, and the people weren't given a chance to look at it and say 'hey I those monies would be better spent elsewhere,'" she said.

When asked if the alternate plans should have been voted on by the town, Monroe said, "Absolutely not. The six school committee members are elected by the town to make decisions for educational purposes and to make our school district the best it can be."

But Plante was concerned about whether or not this was the wisest way to spend this win fall.

"They let go of a speech pathologist with teacher certification at the end of the school year.  This is someone who had a large case load at the school," she said. "If we are cutting specialists, how can you justify that when you're taking all this money out of the budget for a football field?"

Plante said that the project has already eaten up more than half of the town's free cash.

"Extra money like this should be split equally between athletic and non-athletic expenses," she said.

The project is expected to be completed in the coming months. Fairhaven High's schedules for multiple teams were juggled to have the first several weeks of the season played on the road whenever possible. The updated field is expected to be ready sometime in mid-September.

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