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Hughes defends Recreation & Parks efforts to maintain athletic fields; union called an obstacle

Wednesday’s Common Council Recreation and Parks Committee meeting on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Council members are searching for a way to improve maintenance of the City’s athletic fields in the spring, when the demand exceeds the Recreation and Parks Department’s supply of labor.

It’s a “broken record” every year, people complaining about the fields, Council member Thomas Keegan (R-District D) said. “No one’s to blame, it’s just, I think, the whole system and the process.”

“We’re almost in an impossible situation,” Acting Recreation and Parks Department Director Ken Hughes said.

Trash in school playgrounds was also touched upon in the Council Recreation and Parks Committee meeting Wednesday, which ended with concrete action: a unanimous vote to recommend the Personnel Committee work with AFSCME Local 2405 to attempt outsourcing maintenance for some fields during the peak season that’s causing complaints.

That was suggested by Council member John Kydes (D-District C) to keep the issue from “falling into the abyss.”

 

 

‘It’s been this way for the past 10-15 years’

Recreation and Parks currently has 18 staff members, Hughes said. One is assigned to Calf Pasture Beach, one to Cranbury Park; there’s a plumber, a plumber’s assistant, a carpenter, a carpenter’s assistant, a maintenance trades worker and a heavy equipment operator.
“That leaves us with 10 staff for general maintenance throughout the city,” and the department has 52 sites to maintain, 18 of them school properties. Included are Calf Pasture Beach, Shady Beach, Cranbury Park, Veterans Park, Oyster Shell Park, Flax Hill Park and Ryan Park.

Two employees pick up garbage – a ton of garbage a day, two days a week, he said. That’s from schools and parks, not “street garbage.” Two employees mow lawns, with a goal of cutting every site once a day. One employee paints lines on fields – the baseball outfields, the lacrosse fields, the soccer fields.

“Typically, we average one staff member out per week, whether it be sick, vacation, personal time, you know, we typically have one staff member out a day,” Hughes said. And on a typical non-rainy day, eight to nine fields can require lining. Then there are beach fields and “in actuality, we’re doing 11 fields a day, Monday to Friday. Throw in a rainy day, equipment breakdowns …just the reality of the situation.”

“So one of the issues that we’ve had and we’ve had it forever, is we get the schedules from the leagues. We know what fields they’re using, but we don’t know when they’re using these fields,” Hughes said. “…Our workload is handed to us… There’s days that we’re faced with 15-16 fields. And it’s physically impossible for us to get all those fields done. It just doesn’t work. And that’s why you’ll hear, process is broken. It’s been this way for the past 10-15 years, because that’s how business has been conducted for the past 10 or 15 years.”

He suggested that the City set the schedule for the leagues “so we know what fields we have in Norwalk.”

“When we’re faced with 15 or 16 fields a day, then we’re left with making a decision, what fields we do first, and typically we prioritize the high schools, and then we work our way down through the leagues, but obviously some fields are not getting done,” Hughes said. “So then you see the post on Facebook, ‘our field wasn’t touched,’ you know, ‘we have the game,’ and that makes us look bad.”

More staff might sound like the answer but it’s seasonal, “a mad dash, March, April, May, with high school sports and all the leagues just starting up, you know, just coming out of winter,” he said. “A lot of times you can’t even touch the fields, until April because they’re so wet, you know, with the thaw.”

Work was added to Recreation and Parks and while two positions were added, they were replacements for other positions, meaning that some of the labor was reassigned, Hughes said.

The park at 50 Washington St. is great but it needs maintenance and the new Ryan Park is using resources, he said.

“Through the time that I’ve been here, which is now 13 years, I’ve actually lost two driver-classified employees, because when they created the plumber assistant and the carpenter assistant they didn’t give me new employees, they reclassified existing positions,” Hughes said. “So they actually took away a driver position to create the plumber assistant, took away a driver position to create the carpenters assistant. So those are actually men on the ground that were taken away from me, yeah, that we would use for for daily maintenance. I mean granted we have a ton of plumbing work and a ton of carpentry work in those positions are needed. But it wasn’t two additional position, it was in lieu of.”

 

Outsourcing?

Keegan suggested that the leagues might be willing to foot some of the bill by maintaining fields themselves. Hughes said it’s a matter of collective bargaining agreements.

“A few years ago…we did have a company that did fields, I think three days a week for them and we did it the rest of the time,” Hughes said. “It worked out well and then the union got involved and, you know, it had to be stopped.”

“My son was involved in Cal Ripken league until he aged out and these leagues are, are very open to absorbing the cost to keep these fields at their level of quality,” Kydes said. “And the issue was always the union, the kickback from them. So yeah, I strongly suggest passing this on to the Personnel Committee to open that dialogue and to allow these leads to outsource some of these, the maintenance of these fields.”

 

Trash

“I’ve been hearing too from folks, PTOs in particular, about trash pickup at school,” Council member Dominique Johnson (D-At Large) said, asking how often Recs and Parks collects trash from schools.

“The garbage truck visit each site, twice a week to empty the big green 95-gallon toter cans that are around the site. And then we have two part time staff that all they do is pick litter. So, they hit the site, probably once every two to three weeks,” Hughes said. That being said, they don’t hit every site in the city. The reason being, they spend a lot of their time at the trouble sites, sites like Flax Hill Park, Veterans Park along the water, the new Ryan Park.”

So it’s not a scheduled rotation for schools, because they’re spending time at the parks, he said. “In the past the (school) custodians used to take a quick run around the building, every morning, you know quickly pick up any glass or let us know of any major issues that we can address at the school, but I don’t think that happens anymore.”

11 comments

Milly May 13, 2021 at 6:03 am

The city waste tax payer money. The city wanted land on Tito court for a new school – they offered the family $700,000, the family wanted over a million and a settlement ($ amount not being disclosed) was just made for the land. Now DEEP says a school cannot be built there and the city just wasted all that money on it. The city back in 2018 got scammed out of $900,000 by wiring a payment to scammers – the insurance refused to cover the loss.

And maybe school custodians don’t do the job because the city uses a service and you no longer have long time custodians at schools who care about them.

M Murray May 13, 2021 at 6:30 am

So if the leagues are willing to pick up the costs, and there is a staff shortage, couldn’t the leagues cover the overtime costs for the fields that they need done on those days, Don’t they cover the overtime costs of school staff required to open the gyms? Or wouldn’t those overtime costs already be built into league fees the city charges to use the fees and parking for our of town players? Of it has been going on for 10-15 years, it seems like these overtime costs would have been figured out by now to maintain these fields for the “brief time” it is necessary. Doesn’t the City plan and budget for overtime costs for plowing in the winter due to storms since it has been going on for 10-15 years?

Jared May 13, 2021 at 7:31 am

Maybe hire an athletic field superintendent to oversee, prioritize, and delegate. Similar to a golf course superintendent.

Bryan Meek May 13, 2021 at 7:41 am

Weren’t all the turf fields supposed to add capacity to our ability to take care of the rest? Sorry, this is purely a reflection on the very top of the house as much as they like to throw everyone in city hall under the bus.

$130,000 a year could cut a lot of lawns for just one example and everyone knows that the mayor’s office that has almost a dozen people working in it part time, could be run by 3 or 4 people and still manage to communicate things like plans for a holiday light show in less than a years time.

The fields are in rough shape, but look like putting greens compared to the roads to get to them. I’d love to see some stats on wheel alignments and blowouts from our neglected streets. They’ve never been in worse shape to my recollection and we’ve had much harder winters.

DrewT May 13, 2021 at 9:13 am

Everything that John Kydes and Tommy K said are 100% truthful! We the sports leagues, parents have been fighting with P&R fan out the field maintenance for years in this City and it never gets any better. And last year after I finally got News 12 Involved out fields were actually in decent shape to play on. And a system was developed to at the very least mow, drag and line the fields once a week. But I guess that system is not in place this year as I’m hearing (just last night) complaints all over the place about the Weeds (again)!-‘d the crappy conditions the field are in. But even when P&R fix a field or do some sort of maintenance is half fast. Let’s use NHMS field as an example. They did some repairs to the turf before the season including a decent hole on the pitchers mound and behind Home Plate. But why did they just stop there? Home plate is almost 6 inches lower then it should be for the last few seasons. Why wasn’t fixed when the rest was?Why wasn’t the fence fixed where the holes are? And if anyone could tell me when the last time the beautiful new tractor w/o a special of dust was used I would love to know. The field at City Hall is hard as a rock! There are weeds all over the place and the list goes on and in. The girls softball fields takes 2 days to dry our from the rain and the list goes on. But John and Tommy have really great solutions. And I’m sorry if the Union doesn’t like it. Let the leagues do their own maintenance on the fields. There are many many parents who are willing and able to donate their time to get these fields in the conditions our players and City deserves. They don’t have to worry no Union Jibs are being taken away!! There is enough work to go around for them I’m sure. This is a a very very easy and workable solution and the effect would be immediate! It’s way way beyond time this issue gets solved! Every other town around us has beautiful fields but of course Norwalk can’t and it’s time that stops! When the leagues and orients work on the fields they turn out beautiful and I have the pictures to proof it. Time to get to work!

Scott Vetare May 13, 2021 at 9:26 am

Maybe it’s time to hire more people for parks and then use them at DPW on the off-season. We (DPW) can use more people too. The city doesn’t like hiring more people for this type of work. With all of these rental properties going up don’t tell me Norwalk doesn’t have the money! Stop giving tax breaks!

JustaTaxpayer May 13, 2021 at 9:38 am

The soccer players at Tracey school leave a lot of debris yet the volleyball players don’t.

Sue Haynie May 13, 2021 at 9:40 am

This is wrong. Norwalkers pay a ton of taxes. Our parks and fields should be spotless. Always. Get the Unions out of the way. Our City looks like nobody cares because of about 20 union employees don’t want Norwalk residents to Pay Extra out if their Own pockets for seasonal help! What an insult. “Keagan suggested that the leagues might be willing to foot some of the bill by maintaining fields themselves. Hughes said it’s a matter of collective bargaining agreements.“A few years ago…we did have a company that did fields, I think three days a week for them and we did it the rest of the time,” Hughes said. “It worked out well and then the union got involved and, you know, it had to be stopped.”
“My son was involved in Cal Ripken league until he aged out and these leagues are, are very open to absorbing the cost to keep these fields at their level of quality,” Kydes said. “And the issue was always the union, the kickback from them. So yeah, I strongly suggest passing this on to the Personnel Committee to open that dialogue and to allow these leads to outsource some of these, the maintenance of these fields.”

Norwalk Resident For Not Much Longer May 13, 2021 at 2:18 pm

@JustaTaxpayer- i could not agree with you more. I myself have witnessed people at both Vet’s Park and Tracey playing soccer only to leave behind empty water bottles and other trash when they leave. What is even worse is that I have also seen these same people get into cars with NY plates when they are finished leaving behind all their trash.

Nothing but cheap apartments are being built in this city thanks to Assistant Mayor Rilling. Unfortunately these are the type of people that are now attracted to Norwalk. Not people who care about the city or its people, just people looking to use and abuse what they can at the expense of Norwalk taxpayers. It is absolutely pathetic.

Justin Lehn May 13, 2021 at 8:56 pm

M Murray the leagues have money to do things like provide materials and volunteers but would not be willing to pay a city employee time and a half to do what we would do for free if only allowed to.

It’s a ridiculous system with a simple fix. Each field should get maintenance on a fixed schedule from city workers. For example, baseball and softball fields could all be dragged twice per week and mowed once etc. The leagues who use the fields should be responsible for lining, raking, and any additional upkeep required prior to games or events or anything above and beyond what is currently provided by the city. Problem solved. It would take 5 minutes to come up with a resolution if there weren’t so many people invested in keeping the status quo.

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