A $3 million athletic fields project plan was unveiled during a special meeting of the town council on Monday evening at Town Hall.
The project, which was presented at the meeting by Deputy Mayor Gary Bazzano, the chair of the athletic fields subcommittee, calls for, among other things, the following:
- installation of synthetic turf at the South Windsor High School stadium. The plan does not call for lights, but does include the installation for a conduit in the event that the decision to light the field is made later down the line;
- construction of one new synthetic field, two new natural-turf fields and a 188-space parking lot on 11 acres of land at Nevers Park;
- the 90 degree realignment of the Ayers Road softball field;
- and the installation of lights at a baseball field at Nevers Park.
Bazzano said that the committee decided on the synthetic turf surface on two of the fields because they can be used year-round, they are durable, they can be used for multiple purposes and they are cost-effective.
Town Councilor Keith Yagaloff, who was also a member of the fields subcommittee, said that he supported the project.
The need for the project is evident, according to Bazzano, based on the increase in use of the current fields in town.
Currently, 4,643 athletes - 94 percent of whom are youth - use 44 athletic fields in town, Bazzano said. That number represents a dramatic increase over 30 years ago.
Indeed, according to figures presented by Bazzano, 1,496 kids used the baseball fields in town in 2011, compared with just 540 in 1981, representing a 177 percent increase. Soccer has seen an even more dramatic jump, with 1,897 people using the fields in 2011 compared with 305 in 1981, or a 522 percent increase.
Factor in sports that have gained in popularity in recent years, like lacrosse and football, in addition to year-round sports seasons, and the athletic fields have reached their capacity, according to town officials.
Most of the members of the Town Council supported the proposal.
“It’s amazing the amount of use the fields get day in and day out,” Councilor Cindy Beaulieu said. “We need to reduce the burden [on them]. … I am 100 percent behind” the project.
Kevin McCann added that he believed that the price tag on the project was very reasonable.
“If you get all that for $3 million, then you are getting a lot of bang for your buck,” Councilor Kevin McCann said.
Bazzano said that the price was a result of a weak economy, which gives way to favorable conditions for municipalities to invest in projects like these.
Town Manager Matthew Galligan said that the project would be funded not through bonding, but through a private/public partnership either via a leaseback agreement or a 63-20 financing contract.
Either arrangement would not require approval by voters at a referendum.
Regardless of the arrangement, Galligan said that the interest rates were such that he recommended that the town move forward with the plan.
“This is unheard of,” he said. “We need to capitalize on that by getting the lowest interest rate at the lowest cost. We need to be building and put money into the town.”
But while most of the comments from the town officials and members of the public were in support of the plan, several residents expressed their concerns, most notably with the possible installation of a conduit that would enable the construction of lights at South Windsor High Stadium at some point down the road.
Willa Bulkley-Berghuis, of Mountain View Road, said that she lives in proximity to the field and that the possible installation of lights - even if the plan does not call for their immediate construction - is “scary to us.”
“I’m concerned if the conduits are put in,” said Bulkley-Berghuis, who supported the project’s other items. “I don’t want to be here again. Please don’t put lights in.”
Bazzano and Yagaloff both said that the discussion concerning the entire project was still ongoing and that they would work with residents who live in the area of the high school to come to some resolution.
At least one resident, however, was against the entire project.
“Many of the benefits explained in the presentation are assumptions rather than facts,” said Carol Driscoll, noting that the athletic fields were not used by a majority of the residents in town. “I know I am in a minority in the room right now, but not for the residents of the town.”