New ball fields eyed for Mead Park in New Canaan
Published 12:00 am, Thursday, December 1, 2016
NEW CANAAN — The newly formed New Canaan Athletic Fund (NCAF) and New Canaan Baseball Softball (NCBB) are teaming up to bring new ball fields to Mead Park.
A $885,000 proposal to modernize Mellick and Gamble Fields first pitched by NCBB’s co-Presidents Jim Higgins and Scott Werneburg on Nov. 22 to the Board of Selectmen has received support from Mike Benevento, founder of the NCAF.
The idea is to create a public/private partnership between the two organizations and the town, Benevento said.
“I know those guys well,” Benevento said in an interview. “I think we have a lot of infrastructure and a lot of momentum behind our initiative. The foundation is about all sports and community. While the Mead Park fields are away from the high school campus, they’re certainly still under our umbrella.”
The proposed project would be a major face lift to fields that Higgins and Werneburg said badly in need of improvements.
“The fields themselves at Mead Park are really substandard relative to other towns, comparable towns, that we play at,” Werneburg said at the Nov. 22 meeting. “We lose playing time because of the quality of the fields. We are often rained out because they don’t drain well.”
According to Higgins and Werneburg, the fields, on which more than 300 five to 12 year olds play each year, haven’t undergone substantial renovation in more than 20 years. Improvements would include turf infields, which allow for better drainage and a safer, smoother playing surface, grass outfields, new backstops, dugouts, fencing and scoreboards.
“What you have currently is almost no drainage technology. You have huge grade changes over the years as ground has settled,” Higgins said, estimating a 10 foot grade change from one corner of Mellick to another. “It’s a beautiful setting, but the fields are just long, long, long overdue for significant change.”
Also according to NCBB, the turf infield will save an estimated $300,000 over 10 years, reducing the Town’s initial roughly $500,000 investment to a roughly $200,000 net expense.
Higgins said in working with architects to develop preliminary plans — funded by NCBB — they aimed to stay almost completely within the existing footprint of the two fields, though Gamble would be reoriented such that home plate would be moved to where the left field line now meets the foul pole.
The fences of the fields would also be pushed back to 205 feet at its deepest spots on Mellick Field, which Higgins and Werneburg said is more in keeping with other comparable little league fields.
“In the past Cal Ripken Baseball League, which is our national organization, has said, ‘Well, we can’t have state tournaments there because the fence is too short.’ This configuration would make the fence a 205 foot fence, which would possibly put us in contention to host state tournaments which, maybe is good for the program, is good for the town,” Higgins said.
First Selectman Rob Mallozzi commended the organization on their work going back decades. According to numbers provided by Werneburg, over the past 23 years they’ve contributed more than $1.75 million to maintain fields, including lights, scoreboards, field updates and the development of the Mead Park Lodge.
Werneburg said he’s hopeful that with the help of the Town and NCAF the project could be completed by Fall 2017, though nothing has been agreed upon as yet.
The Board of Selectmen did not vote on the plan, but Mallozzi and Selectman Beth Jones — Selectman Nick Williams was absent — expressed their support. Before being finalized, the proposal must go before the Town Council, the Board of Finance and again before the Parks and Recreation Commission, who had given its blessing on earlier iterations that did not include turf infields.
“I know from looking at other towns that we’re way behind. Embarrassingly so on our fields. We take great pride in our schools and our town buildings, but our playing fields have definitely suffered over the last 10 years,” First Selectman Rob Mallozzi said.
As for Benevento, he believes the NCAF has a system in place to allow people to donate to the organization’s general fund, or to earmark funds for specific projects. He said he’s not concerned that potentially adding a project such the field renovation would negatively affect other projects already coming down the pipeline in 2017.
“I think it would allow us to get a wider constituency and cast a wider net, “ Benevento said.