Pierson Athletic Field Reopens for Student Use

The Pierson athletic field as seen in April 2019. Christine Sampson photo

Student-athletes were outside energetically practicing their lacrosse skills on Pierson Middle-High School’s lone athletic field on Wednesday afternoon, a much-storied field that reopened for student use on April 8 following a few months of limited use or complete closure.

Sag Harbor School District superintendent Katy Graves on Tuesday offered an update on the Pierson field, along with the newly installed practice fields and walking track at Sag Harbor Elementary School, as well as projects in the works on behalf of the school district at Mashashimuet Park.

The complication with the Pierson field, Ms. Graves said, is that it is taking a very long time for the new sod, laid down in the summer of 2017, to completely take root. She displayed photographs from the fall of 2018 that showed lines in the grass indicating the sod could still be considered fresh.

She said the district is being cautious.

“Sometimes you put these fields down and sometimes they’re back to being rock hard and grass won’t grow on them,” Ms. Graves said. “We excavated down probably 10 feet and built it back up. We have to protect this new sod. According to the grass expert, it hasn’t finished knitting together yet. It went very, very dormant over the winter. We finally opened it up on April 8 because it had gotten warm enough and it started to green up.”

The district had received criticism over the last few months from parents who suggested Pierson students were improperly being denied access to outdoor recreation on the field during recess and physical education classes. Ms. Graves deferred specific questions during Tuesday’s school board meeting to Gregg Stanley of The Bridge golf club, who has volunteered his time to help Pierson care for the field. Mr. Stanley was not able to attend Tuesday’s meeting and could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

“It was a huge investment and it’s not going well,” said Sandi Kruel, a parent of a Pierson student and a former school board member.

The Sag Harbor School District’s grass field at Pierson was the result of a heated debate that saw the community reverse course on the synthetic turf field it initially approved in November of 2013. In February of 2017, the community supported a natural grass field at Pierson, along with other improvements, by an overwhelming result of 458 to 73.

The Sag Harbor Expresspreviously reported the final cost of the Pierson grass field project, including components such as concrete steps, a concrete bleacher pad, a reconstructed plaza and irrigation, came in at $633,599. Together with the elementary school field, the district spent more than $1.59 million on the two projects.

At Sag Harbor Elementary School, Ms. Graves said, the new practice field and walking track are “really very beautiful” and almost ready to go. They need a once-over with a roller to smooth things out, she said, and they’ll be able to celebrate a grand opening, which is planned for Thursday, May 9, with a rain date of May 10.

“It does have some undulations from some push-ups during the winter, as well as the track,” she said. “Once again, [The Bridge] was wonderful and said they’d be happy to lend us the equipment, send it over and operate it.”

Ms. Graves thanked Mr. Stanley and his colleagues at The Bridge for their help.

Shifting to Mashashimuet Park, Ms. Graves said, “The park board was worried about safety items and we were worried about safety items.”

She explained that in addition to the regular contract — for which the district will pay $203,881 in 2019-2020, according to the school district’s budget documents — the park is entitled to a $9,300 bonus for each slate of improvements it completes in a given school year.

Among the items that have been completed, she said, are the clearing of brush and tick spraying on the cross country track; the addition of electrical outlets on the field dedicated to field hockey; overseeding of fields prior to the beginning of the sports seasons; and new fencing that is in progress.

Park board president Gregg Schiavoni said fencing quotes for one of the baseball field have been acquired.

Ms. Graves said the Sag Harbor facilities administrator, Paul Wilken, will continue to work with Mr. Schiavoni and the park manager on other improvements.

“Slow and steady wins the race,” she said.