Among the many improvements under consideration for the town, none has been more polarizing than the proposed $3 million athletics fields upgrades unveiled last month.
Indeed, South Windsor residents are divided over the proposed project, which was presented by Deputy Mayor Gary Bazzano, the chair of the town’s athletic fields subcommittee, at the Town Council’s July 9 meeting.
The project calls for, among other things, the following:
- construction of one new synthetic field, two new natural-turf fields, a concession stand and a 188-space parking lot on 11 acres of land at Nevers Park;
- 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;
- the 90 degree realignment of the Ayers Road softball field;
- and the installation of lights at a baseball field at Nevers Park.
The project can essentially be broken into two separate parts, according to Bazzano: the Nevers Road improvements, which will cost in the range of $2 million and the other improvements (high school synthetic field, the softball and baseball fields) that will cost about $1 million.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Bazzano said that the project could be funded through a lease-purchase arrangement in which the town would give a developer the land where the fields would be constructed. The town would then lease the improved land (read: athletics fields) for a period of time that could range from 10 to 30 years. After the lease arrangement ended, the land would then revert back to the town.
The annual payment on the lease would be a line item in the town’s budget every year for the term of the lease. If the project were funded in that fashion, a referendum would not be required for its approval, according to Bazzano.
A necessity or the Taj Mahal?
The fields issue has polarized town residents. At the town council meeting on Monday, 10 residents spoke either in favor or against the project, with opinions split about 50/50.
Proponents of the project say that the town’s current athletics fields are overburdened with use as a result of an expansion in the number of sports played on them, as well as the explosion in popularity of girls sports.
Kevin Foley said that he has built a lacrosse field on his farm “because there is not enough space in our town.”
What’s more, athletics are “an extension of the curriculum” that teaches discipline, camaraderie and strategy.
“We need to move forward,” Foley said. “We hear how we want to be Glastonbury. … [Then] you’ve got to move forward. It’s going to cost money.”
Michael Mundo said that the athletics fields would benefit the whole community.
“We can’t be shortsighted,” he said, noting that South Windsor has an aging population. “We want to bring in younger families to replace them.”
Mundo said that for the town the grow, the fields project is a necessity.
“I want what’s best for the town, not just one individual group,” Mundo said.
The project’s detractors say that taxpayers just cannot afford any additional financial burdens, even if there is a need for fields. Some have even disputed that point, with one resident - Tim Appleton - derisively calling the fields project the “Taj Mahal” of athletics facilities.
“It is evident to me and many others a new multi million-dollar state of the art athletic facility is a ‘nice to have,’ not a ‘need to have,’ and certainly not ‘priority one above all else,’ Appleton said.
Appleton said that there are other needs in town, including making some town buildings ADA compliant as well as fixing school roofs.
Other residents said that the project was ill-timed.
“In my opinion, the timing is just not right on spending initiatives at this time,” said Gene Botteron. “In life, timing is everything. In the recent past, many people have been dealing with the aftermath of what has been called the Great Recession.”
Botteron said that he knows of people who are working two or three part-time jobs, that some households are down to one income and, in one extreme situation, a 79-year-old neighbor of his is “taking care of state children” to make ends meet.
“That is not a 9 to 5 job,” Botteron said of his elderly neighbor.
Botteron concluded by saying the need just isn’t there.
“Ball fields are not essential,” he said.
Tony Furnato said that the athletics fields proposal was nothing short of “pandering” and that funding should come from those who use the fields exclusively, not spread among all the taxpayers.
If not now, when?
Bazzano said that he understands that this is a difficult economic time. But the project will never be as inexpensive as it is now, he said. To wait would mean that residents will eventually pay a lot more for the same work.
“As a taypayer, if you don’t do these projects, we are negligent when pricing is so cheap,” Bazzano said. “We are here to save taxpayers money. … I didn’t get elected to sit back and do nothing.”
The cost, Bazzano said, also may sound like a lot, but its impact on residents will not be as significant as many are claiming.
“When you hear $2 million, $3 million, there’s going to be sticker shock,” he said.
But, when spread out over the number of taxpayers over time, the tax increase looks far less daunting. While figures are difficult to estimate at this point, Bazzano said that the additional tax burden would be about $15 to $20 per year on the average taxpayer.
All of which only benefits the town in the long run, by increasing the value of homes by improving public facilities.
“Any time you improve the town, it improves the value of the houses,” Bazzano said.
In addition, while there are other projects that need to be done in town, like school roofs and road repair, athletic fields are also priorities.
“These are not wants, they are needs,” he said, noting that the athletics subcommittee comprised 15 or 16 residents from different backgrounds who eventually came up with the proposal. “It is not a wish list. It’s a needs list.”
Also, Bazzano said he wanted to dispel the notion that the athletic fields are just for one specific group in town.
“It’s for everybody in town,” he said. “This is not just for the 4,500 participants in town athletics.”
People of all walks of life can take advantage of the fields and their surrounding properties, either by playing on them, walking or running.
“It serves everyone,” Bazzano said, adding that, by not doing anything, the town will be doing a disservice to itself. “Where are we going to be six years from now? Ten years from now?”
Bazzano said he hopes to hear from Town Manager Matt Galligan on proposals from developers soon, so the Town Council can discuss, and possibly act on, the measure within the next few months.