It doesn’t take an acute observer to see that New London’s sports fields are much in demand. At a recent Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, half a dozen people asked to use the fields at for a range of activities from youth football to adult soccer.
The committee approved them all in theory but, in practice, the fields are only available to the public if no one else is using them. So the committee welcomed a proposal to upgrade the sports fields at New London’s by adding a fourth all-purpose playing field.
As Caulkins Park is used primarily for soccer, Steven Smith, president of New London’s Youth Soccer League, is really running with the ball. The presentation included drawings and a preliminary cost estimate drawn up pro bono by James W. Fielding, a self-described “soccer dad” who happens to be a landscape architect with BL Companies in Meriden.
The three existing pitches are in great need of improvement, Smith explained. There are serious depression and elevation issues, which would require regrading the entire area. There’s also a need for irrigation to make the turf uniform. To expand playability, the plan proposes to push the walking path closer to the edge of the fields, take out the backstop, and remove bleachers. That would allow for the addition of a fourth multipurpose playing field big enough to accommodate a wide variety of sports including soccer, football, volleyball, and lacrosse.
“The only use that would be changed would be the backstop would come out,” said Smith. “But it’s never been used.”
Initial estimates put the total cost at $738,889, which includes $24,292 for demolition; $240,125 for earthworks (excavation, backfill and grading, compost, and topsoil); $90,000 for drainage and utilities; $98,700 for sitework (a new fence, concrete sidewalk, walking path, and parking); $97.750 for landscaping and turf establishment; and $115,000 for architecture, which includes expanding an existing building to add storage, renovating the bathrooms, and adding exterior lighting.
It’s not a small price tag but Smith pointed out, “If we do a field like this, we can get some income from it.” Tommie Major, director of recreation, told the committee that the standard one-time use rental rate for outside groups is $600 for outside groups and $300 for nonprofit organizations.
“The most important thing being proposed here is the irrigation. I think the city needs more fields that are quality fields. They’re all being upgraded. The key is everything’s got to be coordinated,” Keith Chapman, New London’s Interim Director of Public Works, told the committee. “The City Council is waiting for you.”
Taking Chapman’s cue, New London’s Parks and Recreation Committee voted to endorse the proposal to upgrade Caulkins Park. The project is not first on the committee’s wish list but in voting to set priorities for improvements, it’s now number three on the list after the sports complex and improvements, which are already underway.
“We don’t want to be standing in the way of renovating parks when every other week some organization is coming in to ask to use the parks,” said Committee Chair Ivan Sadler. “What could be better? More fields!”
By approving the concept, at least in theory, the committee has kicked the ball back into New London City Council’s court just in time for serious budget negotiations. The council did not take up the matter at its most recent meeting.