‘A Milestone For This Town’: Residents Form Private Group To Support New Canaan’s Athletic Facilities; Dunning, NCHS Track On Radar

Faced with a pressing need to re-turf New Canaan’s premier sports field prior to the start of the fall season, 20 town residents six weeks ago formed a new nonprofit foundation focused on that project and several others.

In that very short amount of time, thanks to generous donors representing a wide cross-section of the community, the New Canaan Athletic Foundation (here on Facebook and here on Twitter) not only raised more than $500,000 needed to replace the aging turf at Dunning Stadium, but also sketched out a long-term vision for supporting athletic facilities in town.

“It is going to be a community organization, so we are contemplating all sports—not just, say, football, soccer and lacrosse,” said Mike Benevento, chairman of the NCAF board of directors.

A New Canaan resident for 13 years and professional asset manager with four kids ranging in ages from 3 to 12, Benevento added: “It’s for athletic projects that can benefit the community as a whole, and athletic facilities. It’s a broad initiative.”

News of the newly formed organization broke Tuesday during a regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen, when a $554,490 contract was approved for Rockland, Mass.-based R.A.D. Sports to replace the artificial turf at Dunning.

NCHS Athletic Director Jay Egan said at the meeting that officials “had some reservations about the playability of the field going through another season.”

“In the last five weeks the New Canaan Athletic Foundation has raised the required funds for the completion of the Dunning Stadium turf replacement,” Egan said at the meeting, held in Town Hall. “The New Canaan Athletic Foundation has, built on and broadened the work which began with the Ram Spirit Fund which we have been talking about for the last couple of years. Most importantly, the New Canaan Athletic Foundation will continue to provide the community of New Canaan with an organization that is dedicated to ensuring that New Canaan’s athletic facilities are state-of-the-art and meet the needs of all the youth and high school athletics going forward.”

First Selectman Rob Mallozzi praised the group and said it “probably saved the taxpayers of this town, in terms of a budgetary item in next year’s capital [spending], $550,000.”

Because the turfing effectively costs about 5 to 10 percent more as a town project than it would have as a private one, Mallozzi vowed to seek municipal funding to make up the difference.

Selectman Nick Williams called that “a good signal” to the NCAF that it has the town’s support. He added that the turf at Dunning is 11 years old, about three years past its expected useful life. (The old turf at Dunning is to be disposed of by the same contractor that’s doing the installation, Benevento said.)

“I think this is a milestone,” Williams said of the New Canaan Athletic Foundation. “I think today is a milestone for this town.”

Benevento said New Canaan’s Mike Murphy is the NCAF board’s vice chairman, and Garth Appelt is treasurer.

In a press release, NCAF highlighted three major gifts that made the first project at Dunning possible, provided by Jim Dunning, Dave and Sara Koch, and the New Canaan Lacrosse Association.

The new foundation will establish its own 501c3 with the IRS, and two projects that are on the radar for next summer include turfing the “grass strips” alongside the Water Tower turf field on the NCHS campus, and looking at the track at the high school, Benevento said. (Egan had noted at the selectmen meeting that one possible project at the track under a public-private partnership could include installing some stands into the hillside that overlooks it.)

Benevento, who is on the athletics board at Bucknell University after playing football there, said sports are a big part of his own life and his kids’ lives (two sons play baseball and football, and a daughter has played youth sports here, too).

“Sports are amazing for kids and communities and they teach life lessons,” Benevento said.

The board accomplished “a heroic amount” in six weeks, and includes men and women who represent various sports in town, including alumni of New Canaan and its schools, he said. The group is meeting every other week and in the process of appointing its members to specific roles around areas that include marketing, communications and development, he said.

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