Fresh off privately funded plans for a new $1.8 million baseball complex at Waveny Park in May, town officials have approved a proposal for a $1.2 million renovation to more fields.
The fields, which provide a grass playing surface for field hockey, lacrosse, soccer and football, are situated between the tennis courts and the water tower. The renovation, which also will be privately funded, will convert them to artificial turf, allowing them to be used more often during the year, according to Recreation Director Steve Benko.
Where the fields are now, drainage after rains is slow because the dirt is clay, which acts more like a stopper than a drain.
"We're just not getting enough use out of them. They're practicing between ponds and puddles," Benko said of the fields, parts of which he routinely has to close off to protect the soggy grass.
One of the new fields will be 50 by 80 feet, while the other will be regulation size for football, soccer and lacrosse.
The money would come from fundraising by various sports groups, including youth field hockey and lacrosse.
The proposition was met warmly from town officials.
"I'm a huge proponent of this," Selectman Nick Williams said at the July 9 Board of Selectmen meeting. "The issue is: We have a capacity constraint issue on our fields, and a lot of that is due to the girls, the explosion in (girls') lacrosse and field hockey. I think it's frankly a safety issue, having seen games up there and people slipping."
The main hesitation felt by the holders of the town's purse strings was the cost of future field maintenance and replacement.
Benko said the lifespan of artificial turf fields is 10 to 12 years, after which replacement would cost about $400,000.
Benko said the group raising the money would need to raise 10 to 15 percent of the cost of the $1.2 million project as contingency, which would be roughly an additional $150,000. If no contingency costs arise, that money could be rolled into a maintenance fund, he said.
Benko also noted that because new sod would not have to be planted every spring, the fields would not have to be mown or watered, saving the town up to $30,000 each year on maintenance.
Town Council Chairman Mark DeWaele made the point that the town may want to be more appreciative of the $1.2 million donation, calling the fields a need and not a want.
"I think we should be careful that before we ask people who are paying for something the town maybe ought to be paying for itself, to also hold them accountable for maintenance," would be problematic, he said. "These people are taking money out of their own pockets to do something very generous for the town."
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