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Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
CLINTON — From the Little League donated netting across the diamond, to the goalposts and fading lines of the gridiron, Fuller Field is an expanse of manicured grass until the temporary fence, where you see overgrown grass and the partially dismantled bleachers.
The 1940s-era bleachers have come to dominate the discussion of the field while baseball and football continues to be played on the historic fields.
The bleachers may yet come down after a vote last week.
Selectmen had stopped the dismantling when it learned of the work in 2015 and cited failure to follow procurement laws in its decision.
Since then, the bleachers have become a greater safety concern, Fuller Field Commission Chairman Matt Kobus said.
The issues have also dominated impressions of the Fuller Field Commission's work, which includes working with the almost two dozen organizations and teams that use the fields, Kobus said.
The Fuller Field Commission has been working on the bleachers issue, Kobus said in an interview this week, and felt "a lot of frustration."
But he also acknowledged communication issues that have left the commission and selectmen with different impressions of who was supposed to do what, and the underlying issues.
That built on a "adversarial relationship" between the commission and town hall, Kobus said.
The commission last week voted to dismantle the bleachers, Kobus said, which should restart the process begun two years ago.
But, this time, the commission knows the procurement process must be followed, not the handshake agreement that started the dismantling in exchange for the scrap metal.
The commission has done its research and Kobus said the expert it contacted said the bleachers are not worth saving.
Still to be nailed down is the estimate of costs to repair the bleachers.
New bleachers are estimated at $340,000, Kobus said, but selectmen had wanted numbers to compare before taking down the existing bleachers.
"The more communication, the better for everybody," Kobus said.
Kobus said caretaker John Gorman's research showed the structure of the bleachers was built in 1945 on a base of old railroad ties.
That base and the aging metal framing was cited in the original decision to remove the bleachers, which could — and often did — hold 900 people in the days when the Clinton High Gaels played Friday night football games, before the new field across from the high school gave the team a new home.
Removing the old bleachers would remove a danger, including that of children falling from the height of the bleachers, and bringing the bleachers up to code would be expensive.
The plan is to possibly buy cheaper, smaller portable bleachers, more in line with the number of fans who view sports there now, Kobus said.
The bleachers, estimated to cost about $2,000 each, would each hold up to 80 people.
Those seats could also be moved to be used at the baseball fields, increasing the versatility of the fields, Kobus said.
The years of full stands are gone now that the Gaels are playing at the Veterans Athletic Complex.
But, Kobus said he'd like to see throwback games, for example, to bring back the era when Fuller Field was active under the lights.
While the new decision by the commission may start the procurement process, the next step could be finding a contractor to do the work.
The issues have not impeded the use of the complex, Kobus said. "If anything, there is more use now."
The mission statement stresses the facility should be "utilized as much as possible by the town," Kobus said.
"We'll be notifying Town Administrator Michael Ward we voted to remove the bleachers," Kobus said. He sees Ward as helping the commission through the proper process.
"I know we can do it," he said, adding "we all want the same thing."
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