Gonkplex will include two turf fields, a new track, ADA compliant stands, a press box, new tennis courts, a pickleball court, basketball courts, updated grounds around the stadium, a concession/amenities building and an amphitheater. (Courtesy Athletic Complex Committee)
With a cracked and crumbling track, muddy fields, spotty lighting and stands that not all fans can access, while Algonquin has a proud athletic tradition, many coaches and athletes dream of facilities they can be proud of, too.
A highly anticipated $7.5 million proposal for an outdoor athletic complex renovation, nicknamed the “Gonkplex,” seeks to bring sweeping changes to Algonquin athletics.
Approval for funding of the Gonkplex project’s construction will be determined this spring after votes at Northborough and Southborough town meetings. If the project passes in both towns, construction could begin at the end of this school year.
The Athletic Complex Project Committee began its early planning stages in the spring of 2022 after ten years of community discussion of updated facilities, including a turf field. The committee is currently working towards receiving funding approval from the towns of Northborough (approximately $4.7 million) and Southborough (approximately $2.8 million) in order to begin construction. Most elements of the current complex are aging or have already surpassed their expected lifespans. Additionally, the stadium’s spectator stands are not handicap accessible.
“Our facility has served us really well, and we got a lot of really great usage out of it, and we have a lot of great memories as a result of the service it provided,” Principal Sean Bevan said. “But it’s at the end of its useful life, and so now we want to make sure we have an athletic complex that meets our high standards and the needs of our students; that’s both for our athletics program students, but also our physical education classes and for community members.”
Algonquin students and members of the Northborough-Southborough communities have long anticipated changes to the athletic complex. A Track and Turf Committee composed of coaches and community members was established in 2013, but the discussion had been shelved until recently. The current Athletic Complex Project Committee first announced their Gonkplex proposal at the Northborough-Southborough Regional School Committee open meeting on April 12, 2022.
A brand new track, two turf fields, bleachers, lights, tennis courts, pickleball and basketball courts, arts pavilion and lacrosse wall along with a new press box and concession building are predicted to cost $7.5 million with construction to begin during spring of 2023 at the earliest.
One of the major components of the Gonkplex includes the addition of two new turf fields. The Richard Walsh Varsity Field in the stadium and the JV practice field were first installed in the ‘70s, and are set to be replaced.
“There are a lot of opportunities we are missing out on,” instructional support aid and football coach Jon Cahill said. “We have to be careful with grass fields, and I would like to see all of the teams utilizing the facilities with the fields, as it is beneficial to us.”
Grass fields require certain upkeep with lawn-mowing and resting the field, which is when the grass and dirt needs time to regenerate between usage. The annual cost to maintain the grass fields is $90,000. The committee estimates it will cost $10-15 thousand a year to maintain the turf fields.
Some Algonquin teams, such as girls’ varsity field hockey, drive to nearby turf fields for their everyday practices. The field hockey team’s use of The New England Baseball Complex’s turf facility costs approximately $9,000 a season and is covered by the athletic department and the team’s booster association. Other teams use turf on a per diem basis when necessary due to inclement weather or poor field conditions.
And as many surrounding schools have already made the switch from grass to turf, athletes see the Gonkplex as a way to keep up with competition. ARHS is only one of three Midland Wachusett league teams that does not have a turf field.
“When you practice on grass fields and perform on turf fields, it’s very different,” senior Katie Cullen said, a member of the Athletic Complex Project Committee and girls’ varsity soccer and lacrosse teams.
Former coach and athletic director Richard Walsh, the namesake for the varsity field, also views the turf field as a priority.
“A lot of these schools that we play against, compete against, have upgraded their fields over a period of years,” Walsh said. “You can also play on turf fields in the bad weather, maybe the rainy weather, rather than postponing and going back to doing it on your grass field.”
In addition, without a turf field, ARHS is currently unable to host MIAA tournament games for most fall or spring field sports.
Surrounding the varsity field is Algonquin’s track. Originally laid out in 1994, it is well past a track’s typical 18 year life span. With the deteriorating state the track is in today, Algonquin has not met the MIAA standards in order to host events for the spring track season.
“[With an updated track,] I think we will now have the ability to host MIAA sporting events as well,” Athletic Director Mike Mocerino said. “We don’t [currently] have the ability to hold our track events, but we will now have the ability to hold track meets. I just think that this will give us the ability to host bigger events than right now.”
Although the majority of the Gonkplex elements directly benefit athletes, interests outside of sports were also taken into consideration. Part of the plans include an amphitheater that would be used for musical performances and student artwork displays.
“There’s an amphitheater there that I’m really hopeful for because I think it’s a nice addition to the facility,” Bevan said. “That wouldn’t be a huge added cost, but we would get a lot of usage out of it.”
Steps moving forward
Initial discussion surrounding the updated athletic complex began in 2013, but the Athletic Complex Project Committee, made up of 17 members including student-athletes, coaches, administration and community members, has set the project into motion during the past year.
“The planning stages have gone pretty smoothly,” Bevan said. “This has been, for many years, just in conversation, but it’s never actually progressed as far along to the stage as it is now…A lot of the planning, and the identification of what the needs are, and the working with the engineering firm to develop a plan that looks like it would meet all those needs, those steps have all occurred.”
The committee is at a point where the future of the Gonkplex will be determined by the votes from the community, with newly-launched Instagram and Twitter pages promoting the project. The initiation of construction will be decided at the spring town meetings for Northborough and Southborough, in April and March, respectively. The committee estimates that the cost per year per household will be approximately $85 to $90.
“We’re going to need the community’s full support on this,” Cahill said. “We will need the full support of people who live in Northborough and Southborough.”
Despite many positive opinions about the proposal, there are still mixed feelings surrounding it. English teacher and Northborough resident Jane Betar, while acknowledging the necessity for certain aspects of the Gonkplex, specifically the track and ADA compliant stands, has doubts.
“I feel like it is a grand plan at a challenging time,” Betar said. “I feel like it could be scaled down … Our economy isn’t great. We pay high taxes in Northborough as it is, and I would like to see the essentials improved.”
Walsh, who was the Algonquin athletic director for 10 years and football coach for 23 years, shares similar views on what should be prioritized in order to get the project passed.
“I think it’s important to make sure that on this new project that we emphasize the things that we really need first,” Walsh said. “It would be nice to have them all, but in trying to get [everything,] we may not be able to get them at all.”
In February, the Harbinger interviewed students and staff in a Roving Reporter to gather opinions on the project, and found that some were concerned about the cost or the potential disruptions to fall sports.
“My concern is staffing and funding,” cafeteria staff Pam Hodge said. “Once it is done, how will it be maintained? While it is being renovated, how will the teams play?”
“Some [of the athletic complex] should be renovated and I know the tennis courts are kind of rough,” freshman Abigail Wood said. “… The money could be better spent fixing the school WiFi or intercoms.”
If approval is secured, a contract will be finalized and the timeline for the Gonkplex’s construction will be brief, according to the committee. With construction beginning this spring, it is expected to conclude in September.
“We’re hoping that we can break ground sometime in June,” Mocerino said. “If that is the case and everything goes well, we were told that there’s a potential to be ready to go for this fall. We’re talking about a months-long timeline, but we understand that things can happen along the process. So we’re going to be planning as we go, in case.”
Mocerino is optimistic that disruption to fall sports will be minimal.
“We might have to have a couple sporting events [such as] football or maybe potentially soccer that might have to play on the road,” Mocerino said. “But we have the capability with all of our lower fields that we can come up with a schedule that limits the disruption … So we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure we can keep our sports teams on campus, and if we have to adjust, have a schedule that will adjust accordingly.”
The future of Gonkplex depends on the towns voting to fund the project.
“Our school committee is in support of the change, and so the funding is really the most important piece to come next,” Bevan said.
Right now, the project is estimated to cost about $7.5 million, which would mainly be raised through taxes from Northborough and Southborough. This cost would be split between the towns according to the school enrollment percentages over the last four years, with Northborough to cover about $4.7 million (62.33%) and $2.8 million for Southborough (37.67%).
“A cost like what they’re looking at, which is greater than $7 million, is not the kind of cost we can absorb in our what we call the operating budget,” Bevan said. “So it would require town members to come out and vote from each town based on the proportion of students who enroll here from each town. That’s how that would break down.”
While the funding can not be officially finalized until after approval, the estimates give the community an idea of the scale of the project. Algonquin students were presented with the information during class meetings on Feb. 16 to help increase awareness in the community of the proposal and associated costs.
“Right now [the committee] is making sure that both towns are getting accurate information and spreading awareness,” Mocernino said. “I think we have a long way to go because there is going to be a price tag associated with both towns.”
The upcoming town meeting for Southborough is scheduled for March 25 and April 25 for Northborough.
“The community has to come out and vote about whether or not it will be funded by each of the two towns,” Bevan said. “So that’s where I think it’s going to be important for the school department and the towns to work together.”
More details on the specific athletic complex elements can be found on the Gonkplex website, run by the Athletic Complex Project Committee.
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