Nearly two years after receiving municipal approvals, a plan to create two additional turf athletic fields at New Canaan High School is gaining momentum this week, as a website, formal fundraising effort, renderings and timetable for the project have materialized.
Through the newly created “Ram Spirit Fund,” a committee that includes the NCHS athletic director, recreation director of the town and officials from youth field hockey, football, lacrosse and soccer groups are seeking to raise $2 million by the end of this month.
With those funds in hand, the committee would put the project out to bid in May, start work in June and have the fields ready for when the next academic year kicks off in September, according to a timetable published on the website. The fields would be located across the parking lot from Dunning Field, running from the tennis courts toward Waveny.
Nick Williams—both a selectman who voted in favor of the project in July 2013 and a longtime youth sports parent who has launched a website dedicated to NCHS soccer teams—said the new turf fields are “something we need in town.”
“One of the trends continuing trends that we’re seeing in New Canaan is really the explosion of girls’ sports. It is a good development. This town has always been supportive of girls’ athletics as well as boys’ athletics, and these new fields will relieve practice space congestion, which we’re currently facing as a town. I think it will provide our kids with the opportunity to play in inclement weather and I think this winter has underscored the importance of that upside.”
With the additional turf fields, New Canaan also will have the option of hosting revenue-generating athletic events that draw from other towns and even states, Williams said.
The project is a culmination of several years in which the various nonprofit youth sports organizations which have been volunteer-run, came together to pool resources and efforts to benefit the whole group and wider community, said Michael Murphy of the All Sports Booster Club, who co-signed a letter to youth sports parents that announced the Ram Spirit Fund.
“It is a lot of work” to run the youth sports, Murphy said, “and for a few almost year-round.”
“So they were just busy doing their own thing and finally what happened was, there are a number of us involved in different sports, our kids grew up together we said said that with the economies of scale, if we do things with one vision, we can really do something special. And out of that: How can we combine forces and share a vision? And that led to needing to create a centralized platform that became the All Sports Booster Club and Ram Spirit Fund.”
As of Friday morning, $3,850 had been raised, according to the website.
In a letter emailed Wednesday to youth sports parents, Athletic Director Jay Egan and Murphy said the fund will support an “Athletics Complex Master Plan,” of which the new turf fields are “the first project.”
“Much as the initiatives that created Dunning Stadium in 1997 and the Water Tower Turf Field in 2007, the creation of two new turf fields will be a big step towards fulfilling the vision of a state of the art athletic facility for New Canaan,” the letter said.
“Currently, more than one out of every two students compete in a high school sport, and in the past 10 years, participation in New Canaan youth sports has risen dramatically. While it is wonderful to have so many of our youth out of doors, exercising and enjoying the camaraderie of team sports, the current turf field coverage is simply not adequate for the number of athletes and athletic programs that New Canaan boasts.”
The fund is an entity under the booster club umbrella which, through its capital project planning and fundraising, will support both the high school and youth programs by improving and preserving the fields on which all New Canaan kids play, Murphy said. (Though youth baseball is not yet involved with the Ram Spirit Fund, the program could come into the fold at some point, Murphy said, should the plan for the two turf fields prove itself workable and the ongoing fund viable.)
All donations to the Ram Spirit are tax deductible, through a fund set up by the New Canaan Community Foundation.
Cynthia Gorey, executive director at NCCF, said: “This effort is a true community collaboration, and the Community Foundation is pleased to partner with the local sports groups that came together to form the Ram Spirit Fund. We bring our expertise in nonprofit management to the project, allowing them to focus their expertise on improving the local sports facilities.”
Recreation Director Steve Benko, who also sits on the Ram Spirit Fund Committee, said the Park and Recreation Commission and Planning & Zoning Commission (for the lights) also had supported the project.
The Ram Spirit Fund will be an ongoing fundraising effort, Benko said, for projects that could include replacing the turf at the Water Tower Field which is nearly 10 years old, as well as at Dunning.
According to Murphy, the turf at Dunning is about 18 months away from its shelf life, so it will need to be replaced within two years. The Ram Spirt Fund Committee is eager to show the community that it has the infrastructure and organization to continue to develop the facilities at Dunning, Murphy said. Plans call forworkout and locker rooms at Dunning itself and a renovated press box with increased IT capabilities, Murphy said. Specifically, the high school’s media classes would be able to film, produce and stream varsity events at Dunning, and the scoreboard would have more in-game functionality, he said.