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Improved baseball fields may be on the horizon in New Canaan

Published 4:47 pm, Wednesday, November 28, 2012
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A plan is in the works to substantially renovate and reconfigure the Waveny Park athletic fields. The Park and Recreation Commission is set to vote on the estimated $1.6 million plan at its Dec. 12 meeting, and if successful, the project would move through all town bodies and possible break ground in October.

The proposed improvements are the work of the groups New Canaan Baseball and Softball and the Waveny Fields Renovation Committee, which together plan to raise the full cost of the project privately.

Currently there are five fields at Waveny: a full-sized baseball field with 90-foot base paths; two girls' softball fields; and two mens' softball fields. The plan would replace the baseball field with a top-of-the-line artificial turf field that could be used for the high school varsity team as well as New Canaan Baseball, the recreational little league and the older group.

The move would cut the number of softball fields from four to three, with one for girls varsity, one for junior varsity, and one for the mens' leagues. The men and the girls could share the varsity field by moving the bases if need be.

The plan would then add a Cal Ripkin-sized baseball field which is an intermediate size between Little League and full size, with 70-foot base paths. These fields are used for 11- and 12-year-olds as a transition to the full-size field.

"The benefit is the renovation of the varsity baseball and softball fields and the improvement of the field outlook for all of New Canaan Baseball," said Patrick Edmonds, who represents New Canaan Baseball and presented the plan to the commission. "It would also (allow for) access to the fields in inclement weather. We feel that the turf will improve the New Canaan Baseball program. Currently, the 90-foot field at Mead (Park) is highly used but has limitations, like the tree in center field. These keep it from being a premier or even average field."

The new field would mean that the high school's varsity team could play in its own backyard rather than trek over to Mead Park for games. Along with artificial turf, the new full-sized field would include a number of other features. Barry Blades of the Blades & Govern landscape architectural firm that assisted with the design of the plan, explained some of them at the Oct. 10 Park and Rec meeting.

"We're going to put an 8-foot wall with screens to have a real homerun field," he said. "It will have a press box, dugouts and bullpens," he said.

The addition of the Cal Ripkin-sized field is a main attraction. The proposal states that this 70-foot intermediate-sized field is, "one of the fastest-growing segments of the youth baseball program."

"The 70-foot baseball field is a big need," Edmonds said at the meeting. "The only one is at Saxe, and gets a lot of use."

The proposal does not plan to make any alterations to the parking situation.

The only problem foreseen with the proposed changes is the field demands for softball games and practices since the total number of those fields would be reduced from four to three. Steve Benko, director of the town's Recreation Department, is in charge of scheduling field time.

"I think it's a nice idea," he said in a later interview. "It would put the high school field near the high school. We just have to make sure we don't displace any programs with what they're proposing. For girls' softball, you don't want to take any time away: We want them to have a strong program. Putting in a 70-foot field is new and displaces the mens' softball, so we have to try and see if we can make that work. That's the question."

The two varsity fields would be lit under the proposal instead of the one that is currently. Benko said that the town would continue to pay for the cost of lighting, as it does for all fields. He said that with the recently upgraded lighting system, the town saves a lot more energy than it did previously.

"We have a new system which is great," he said. "It's all controlled by a schedule on the Internet. A company in Iowa turns the lights off based on a schedule I post online. If it goes late, I can give them a call and keep the (lights) on. It's made a difference in our usage."

The improvements would be scheduled for outside of the main baseball season, tentatively in October 2013, and would aim to be completed by the start of the baseball season in April 2014.

Edmonds said that the cost of the improvements would be privately raised.

"Once we get approval from this board and the rest of town, we'll move ahead with fundraising. We've had some very strong commitments so far, although we haven't asked publicly for money yet," he said at the meeting.

Should the proposal pass through Park and Rec, it would go before Planning and Zoning, and then seek the approval of the Board of Selectmen and the Town Council.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews