NORWALK, Conn. – It was Wednesday in City Hall, and what looked like the line at the DMV was actually a lengthy queue of Norwalk coaches, parents, and young athletes waiting their turn to advocate for better sports facilities.
Former Planning Commissioner Dave Davidson kicked off the dialogue, contending that Recreation and Parks’ needs “for the last several years have been sacrificed to fund the Board of Education programs, which have exploded from the time they were originally proposed and approved. You have to recognize infrastructure and recreation and parks’ needs with the same support that you’ve given to the Board of Ed in the past.”
One after another, concerned residents expressed dismay with fractured tennis courts, flooded playing fields, and numerous other chronic causes of cancelled games and inability to host tournaments.
The Planning Commission public hearing on the 20-21 capital budget marks an early stage of a process that will culminate with a Common Council vote in April.
Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz’ 2020-21 recommendation allots $225,000 for basketball and tennis courts ($575,000 had been requested). Recommendations granting full requested amounts include $85,000 for athletic fields, $50,000 for backstops and fencing, and $900,000 for the West Rocks soccer complex.
Denial of a $1 million turf softball request was met with dismay by speakers who said that abysmal softball field conditions have yielded a 35 percent game cancellation rate. On a darker note, several people declared that the marked disparity between boys’ baseball and girls’ softball facilities violates Title IX, a federal law which states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Crusading activist Diane Lauricella stepped to the podium to warn that repeated skin contact with artificial turf may cause cancer, due to carcinogens in the rubber crumbs layered into the product. Noting artificial turf’s universal omnipresence, Rec and Parks Director Nick Roberts replied, “There’s some data on both sides of it, and we can ask our department to get their input as well.”
The Planning Commission is accepting written comments through 5 p.m. Wednesday Feb. 12. Comments should be sent to Planning and Zoning Director Steve Kleppin [email protected]
$225 million requested for NHS… by whom?
Noticing a newly-entered capital budget insertion of $225 million for Norwalk High School listed as a Board of Education request recommended by Chief Financial Officer Dachowitz, Planning Commissioner Nora King spoke up. “This line item was not in our meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday last week,” she said. “There was no dollar amount there, so I think that we should get some backup material.”
Commission Chairwoman Fran DiMeglio added “It wasn’t there from the Board of Ed. It was there from the Director’s recommendation,” prompting a reply from Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Tom Hamilton.
“I just saw the finance director’s recommendations today,” said Hamilton. “I haven’t had a chance to speak with him concerning those recommendations. The sheet that I saw is showing a new project in it for Norwalk High School that actually lists as a department request, and that is not an accurate presentation because our Board did not make such a request, so I think it needs to at least be modified to show that the Board of Education has not made that request.”
Hamilton, former Norwalk Finance Director, explained, “My understanding of the City Charter is that the Mayor does in fact have the authority under the Charter to add new projects to the capital budget, and I was under the impression that if there was going to be a new project added for Norwalk High School, it would come at the time that the Mayor considers the capital budget, which is in March. The Charter then does go on to say that if the Mayor adds any new projects, it is required to come back to the Planning Commission for a recommendation on any such project that’s added. But I’m not aware that the Charter provides for the Finance Director to add projects.”