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Norwalk athletic leaders pitch cases for funding to fix up playing fields

Norwalk Junior Soccer Association President Bob Fosina enjoys a joke Wednesday with the Planning Commission in City Hall.

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.

11 comments

Ken Hughes February 8, 2018 at 6:15 am

Just a point of clarification. Testa Field turf replacement WAS a capital request last year in the Rec and Parks budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Although it was 13 on the priority list then, it has since moved due to the need.

Non Partisan February 8, 2018 at 8:00 am

We can spend our money on athletics- or we can spend it on ELL programs. There is not enough money for both

Please end our sanctuary city policies NOW

Piberman February 8, 2018 at 9:18 am

Funding for playing fields or funding to provide skills to compete in our ever more demanding hi-tech universe. Lets play ball !

Patrick Cooper February 8, 2018 at 12:05 pm

The misery of watching nighttime news is only topped when I see NoN articles such as this. That Rilling’s puppet Mike Mushak has any say in how our taxes are spent is like some dystopian black comedy. All I hear is the siren song of one-party rule in Norwalk, sung to your most hated one-hit wonder:

“Spend spend spend spend, spend spend spend spend, spend tax spend spend, tax and spend spend spend, tax and spend spend, tax and spend spend, mill rate increase, rainy day fund draw down, grand list stagnate, spend spend spend spend, fund million dollar pensions, watch the mayor shop at the boat show, spend spend spend”. The song is over, time for the “For Sale” sign.

Nancy – would it be possible to highlight the first time anyone anywhere near our common counsel, any person appointed to any of the committees, uses the words “budget reduction” or “cost cutting” as it relates to our Norwalk municipality. Use type face reserved for when the US declares war.

Kevin Kane February 8, 2018 at 12:41 pm

We have 2 sons who have or currently participate in Norwalk lacrosse, flag football, basketball and baseball. I’ve coached and helped in various capacities so I have a pretty good idea of what the field use cases, patterns and conditions are. I also know this town does a poor job spending my money I give the town in the form of taxes and a worse job identifying priorities.
Furthermore, I know Jack well enough to understand he gives a ton of effort to the lacrosse program – it’s amazing, as do I am sure others in the room last night – I was not there. Lastly, I am pro priority, not anti-sport and very grateful that the fields behind Nathan Hale were named in honor of my father in law who succeeded off the field an on it including many eras including “3 yards and a cloud of dust” football.

That said, I am not sure a new field ought to be the priority and wonder if there are other considerations given. Here are my thoughts:
McMahon just built a combined soccer and baseball turf field as well as a shorter(?) football/utility field, once called the”pit” -how will these additions reduce the wear and tear elsewhere in Norwalk?
If you want to see embarrassment, did anyone head down to Vets Park? Suddenly we are concerned about safety yet we continue to have what, 1,000 kids per week practicing/playing lacrosse and soccer there? Look close – there are iron sewer covers throughout the field. It is so bad that it is a running joke Norwalk lacrosse players are better at picking up ground balls because they play on Vets which is loaded with potholes, dirt/grass transitions and goose pooh.
What are the plans for ongoing Goose Pooh Mitigation at Vets? What will/did we spend on Geese Relief Inc. to get rid of the geese at Vets?
How about we allocate money to marijuana and drunk driving enforcement at Vets? It is common place to smell marijuana and see beer drinking in plain sight when I go to pick up our boys at lacrosse practice or visit Vets. How about a portable toilet over where they park there and not just in the middle of Vets so among other benefits – youth, guess, and adults do not witness men urinating “behind” 4 inch diameter tree trunks? That’s embarrassment du jour. Or maybe unlock the bathrooms on the far side of Vets. To costly?
I hear Norwalk Flag Football entry fees are going towards “floating” the Norwalk Tackle Program. I hope that rumor is wrong. Either way, has anyone seen Norwalk Football’s accounting books/finances? I have not but how about they kick in some $ towards the turf IF is deemed a priority.
Accordingly, how about we see pdfs of ALL the accounting books/finances for every sports program, soccer included? Where is the $ going? Should more to turf?
What % and how many $ of the gate receipts from the Pound on The Sound Lacrosse Tournament go DIRECTLY to field maintenance?
A concession stand at Broad River? I say no – I think Dunkin Donuts and personal coffee makers have that covered. Besides, how many hours and when is the concession stand at Vets in operation? What does the town spend on that concession stand? How much profit does it generate? What is the financial justification for adding it to Broad River? Do the coaches, parents or players see donuts and Coke or fundamental maintenance of the field as key? Maybe just fix the score board vs. replacing it?
It’s been 2 years since I was in the scorers box behind home plate at Broad River. It was a _hithole. Maybe it’s been tuned up but I say no concession stand or improvements if the current scorers box can’t be kept clean. Basics, no?

Why not allocate money to opening the 2nd gate entrance/exit to Vets(closest to Overtons) during Spring lacrosse and soccer seasons? Has any of the ADs or Commissioners sat 15,20..30 cars deep in traffic getting out of the exit by the boat ramps at the end of practice? Call me crazy but I think it would be only 3 hours MAX labor per day to staff the 2nd gate. I’ll volunteer for the first day you open that 2nd gate. I’ll even bring my chain cutters for free. Deal?

How about daily trash service and adequate number of trash cans at ALL of the fields? Ponus, Fox Run, Vets, Callahan Sports Complex….. Overflowing trash cans are a huge nuisance and embarrassment.
While we are talking safety, has anyone noticed the grass is almost gone on the slope to the lower field at Callahan Sports Complex? There was netting used to hold the dirt and seed shortly after construction but the netting shows – perfect size to catch a cleat spike or shoe. Almost no one uses the flowy, ADA compliant asphalt walkway but I understand why the ramp/walkway is there. Yet, almost everyone climbs the dirt hill or walks down it which by the way, ends in a rut, a drinking fountain and knee cap height cement wall. What was the reason for not including a staircase in the original plans? What are the plans and budget allocation to install a stair case? Oh, and please don’t install a heated staircase like the one that was done off of MLK Boulevard. It cost a crushing $250,000 and still is not 100% right.
How many injuries caused by bad, hard, or other issues with the turf been reported since Testa was opened? Is that truly a problem?
If the field is so hard and compacted, what explains the many times I see people, mostly under 20 years old, running around and playing in socks, yes, socks on Testa Field?
I’m confused by the Norwalk Junior Soccer Association President Bob Fosina comment that “There would probably be 100 more athletes whose GPA would improve if Norwalk had better utilization of this rare commodity, the fields…” I’d like to see the basis for this and get clarity – perhaps it is a misquote. Testa field turf replacement is the topic. So is he saying that there are 100 athletes waiting for replacement turf then once replaced….BAM!.., 100 more kids will get higher GPA? Is softer turf the lone reason for a rise in GPA? I get the long list of benefits of sports but the quote seems misguided.

Please, let’s call a timeout to create transparency in use and finances related to sports, establish priorities then determine the timing for next steps. Along the way, keep in mind the grove of money trees is long gone locally and at the state level.

Thanks! Kevin

Tysen Canevari February 8, 2018 at 3:24 pm

I think Kevin has been away from Broad River for too long. We as a league have funded all the work that has been done at the park. We put up permanent fencing around both fields at a cost of $30,000. (no help from the city) We installed turf and sprinklers on field 1 at our cost. We received a donation from Bonadio Construction to install a new scoreboard which we installed on our own. We are looking to install a scoreboard on the other field and have bathrooms for people to utilize while attending an event at the field. The concession stand would be run by volunteers to benefit the kids in the program. 100% goes back to them. We are not crying or begging but we were asked to attend to answers questions that the comittee might have. I have been fields and grounds director for over 10 years and put a lot of effort into making it a nice place for the youth of Norwalk to enjoy. Next time we have a volunteer day I will certainly invite you out to lend a hand.

Diane Lauricella February 8, 2018 at 5:43 pm

@ kevin kane Having transparency for all entities using our public fields and parks would be a great idea.

The transparency should include the scheduling of soccer fields to ensure that there is balance and fairness.

Has there been a serious look at returning to natural turf fields, including adequate funding and staff attention that was not available years ago? I cannot imagine that @ over $1 million-dollar+/field has measured up to the manufacturer’s promises…how much would a natural field cost to re-install, then properly maintain, per year? Just suggesting a fair cost comparison finally. Sounds a LOT more sustainable.

Do the parents know that the EPA is still studying the safety of artificial turf fields, especially the crumb rubber filler that gets in the kids’ ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and cuts? I had asked for an independent study done by a qualified company in past years during the capital budget hearings and that fell on deaf ears…the time has come for transparency and due diligence. Time’s up!

Mike DiIorio February 9, 2018 at 10:25 pm

What are you people talking about “transparency”? Every youth league in Norwalk is a non profit entity. Instead of typing a complaint on a website you should email the league and ask to go to a leagues monthly meeting. All non profit leagues meetings in Norwalk are open to the public. Also Kevin the flag football and the the tackle program are the same league. I don’t know what float the tackle program means. Does the Norwalk Cheer program float the the flag league? Cheer is also in the same league. I have coached youth sports in Norwalk for well over 10 years football,baseball and basketball. The one thing I have learned coaching in Norwalk. The people who do the most complaining do the least volunteering. If you want Norwalk and McMahon to compete they need top tier facilities. What they don’t needs is EPA studies and accusations of financial wrong doing. You think Darien,New Canaan,Staples and Wilton win because they have better athletes than Norwalk? They win because they put the youth players and HS players in the best possible situation to win. Norwalk should be doing the same for their athletes.

Kevin Kane February 11, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Tysen – thanks for the info and yes, I am aware of your efforts including painting the backstop and dugouts as well as the temporary fence install etc. I still question the plans on the concession stand and if it is a valid use of time and $. Are kids, parents and coaches complaining about lack of concession stand? Where can I find the pdf of the financials for the concession stand? Again, I am NOT anti-sports, I am pro-priority. Please keep me posted on the next volunteer day – as long as it does not conflict with today from 1:30-2:30 when I am volunteering for Norwalk Lacrosse

Diane L – I’d like to see the analysis on the real vs. fake fields but my guess is that it is quite a bit more $ for grass. You ask very good questions so let’s see it Norwalk officials – what has the research been? With regards to the crumb rubber, I think Wilton High just put in a non-crumb rubber based field. https://www.wiltonbulletin.com/66754/organic-turf-proposed-for-fujitani-field/ Our kids have played on turf and I only find crumb rubber in their shoes on a bit ground into socks – not sure why your kids are ingesting it or making it’s way into ears.

Mike D – thanks for the reply. Transparency means showing the truth. Transparency means showing the facts and figures. Transparency means showing the good, the bad and the ugly. Transparency means being proactive with the related information. Transparency means posting the truth on your website vs. asking people to come to various meetings. Be careful with “non-profit” – it’s why there are now sites like Charity Navigator https://www.charitynavigator.org/ that rate “non-profits”. I am not alleging misuse of funds, just curious as I have never seen any financials for youth sports.
Definition 2 – Float. Float is a term used to imply spreading, loaning or use of money to subsidize. I am aware that cheer, flag and tackle are all under Norwalk Youth Football. Are cheer costs more than they ought to be because tackle or flag are not high enough and kept at a “market price” therefore, cheer “floats” the other teams or, vice versa? If there is nothing to hide, why not show the financials? They ought to be a part of every meeting so why not publish the meeting materials and notes? Or is it because in the Board Meeting Minutes section of the NJF&C site, the last posting of 7 was August. Of 2012….
The reason I am “complaining” and asking is because I’ve been involved and volunteered enough to know there are challenges. I stopped coaching because I am not qualified to coach as the player development advances but I certainly still volunteer to pick up trash and other non-coaching duties such as field set up at flag at times with Andres Roman.
I’d like to see Norwalk and McMahon compete – compete on those priorities that matter to the most in Norwalk taxpayers minds. In my opinion, the surrounding towns win because the parents are also committed yet they have more discretionary income to do so. Darien, New Canaan etc. don’t seem to have our marching band beat because enough people put the priority on music. I also believe surrounding towns generally do have better athletes in most sports and their philosophy from what little I know is due to their approach and in the case of youth football, they simply have more numbers of participants. What explains their success, almost across the board when Darien is 1/4 the population of Norwalk? Yet, why else would Darien 6th grade youth football have 3 teams of 16-20 kids when Westport had 1? Norwalk had 1. In this one case, Darien 6 balanced their team talent who went a cumulative 5-25 two years ago but you and I know of those 45-60 kids, the cream will rise and they will compete. And win. Besides, Norwalk will always have this core problem: 1/4 of 8th graders go to McMahon, 1/4 go to NHS, 1/4 quit/don’t play the sport in high school, and 1/4 go to private school. I think it is the private schools that are a big drain on talent, not lack of turf fields.

I know there are many, many dedicated volunteers in sports. As a taxpayer, I still believe questions are free. As I said, I challenge every youth sports league to send their past 3 years worth of finances to Nancy On Norwalk for an article. I hope I am 100% wrong and if nothing else, maybe the financials will show challenges and identify holes and lack of support from the town and put the volunteers in even a better light.

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