NORWALK, Conn. – Testa Field could be dangerous if the turf is not replaced, Jack Couch said Wednesday.
Passionate entreaties regarding Testa Field, the main playing field at Norwalk High School, were followed by equally plaintive commentaries about Broad River Baseball Complex at the Planning Commission’s capital budget public hearing, with the word “embarrassing” popping up.
The Testa Field turf was installed 10 years ago and is wearing out, said Couch, of the Norwalk Lacrosse Association.
“It’s like a carpet and a piece of it can come up,” Couch said. “A player running down the field could catch their foot in it, could twist a knee, tear up a knee. Once the field gets harder, and we all know about the issue with heads hitting the ground.”
The $542,000 request to replace Testa’s turf wasn’t in the long-range capital budget last year and Norwalk Finance Director Bob Barron has not recommended funding for the project, Couch said.
Safety is becoming a concern at Testa, which is used by 400 athletes a year, Norwalk High School Athletic Director Doug Marchetti said, specifically mentioning impact injuries.
“As these fields settle and harden, that ground becomes harder and harder. … If you walked on the Norwalk high field and you went to the newer fields at Nathan Hale or Brien McMahon you would definitely notice a difference in terms of the compaction between the fields,” he said.
“We as a community absolutely need to repair the existing field and increase the utilization of turf across the city,” said Norwalk Junior Soccer Association President Bob Fosina.
“Athletic programs reduce the dropout rate by 40 percent,” Fosina said. “According to the U.S. Department of Education, students who spend no time in extracurricular actives are 49 percent more likely to use drugs, 37 percent more likely to become teen parents, than those who spend one hour a week in extracurricular activities…. There would probably be 100 more athletes whose GPA would improve if Norwalk had better utilization of this rare commodity, the fields in this ultra-expensive, densely populated county.”
Broad River is Norwalk Little League’s primary baseball field but there are no restrooms and no concession stands, Little League President Dan Balliett said, commenting that 400 players use the facility during the season and there are two Portapotties.
“We need to cram as much as we can into Broad River because Vet’s gets flooded a lot. … we end up rescheduling at least 25-50 percent of our games out of Vet’s Park and trying them to move them into other fields.
Planning Commissioner Mike Mushak said he’d never been to Broad River but was inspired to check it out after Planning Commissioner Nora King’s recent comments about the facility.
Mushak said, “It’s embarrassing, really, that our city has a field in such bad shape.”
The Recreation and Parks Department requested $80,000 this year and $2 million in the 2019-20 capital budget for design and construction of a new facility.
Norwalk is funding the construction of two new schools. Barron, in his recommended budget, commented that his five-year $189.4 million plan funds $86.6 million for the Board of Education; $76.9 million for the City; $20.9 million for the Water Pollution Control Authority; and $5 million for the Parking Authority.
“Due to the significant investment in the city’s schools, this recommended five year plan generates several years of debt ratios greater than the targets in the city’s debt policy. However, the city returns to these targeted levels of debt ratios after a projected level of debt issuance of $22.2 million in years six through ten,” Barron wrote.
Planning Commissioners on Wednesday later asked Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton if it would be a problem if some of the school construction money was rearranged, with less money coming in in this year’s cycle, to provide room for other expenses. Hamilton said that wouldn’t affect the schools, but speculated that Barron had reasons for putting the funds in this year’s budget.
The Planning Commission will query Barron next week to discuss his recommendations, Commission Chairwoman Fran DiMeglio said. The Commission’s public hearing will remain open for written comments until the close of business Feb. 14, she said.
The Commission will send its recommended capital budget to Mayor Harry Rilling by March 5; Rilling will send his recommended version to the Board of Estimate and Taxation, which will then send its recommendations to the Common Council.
The process ends by April 15 with a Council vote on a final budget.