A widely anticipated plan to improve the little league baseball fields at Mead Park is being pushed back one year after those overseeing the project received higher-than-anticipated cost estimates, officials said Wednesday night.
Unveiled last year, the project to create larger dimensions at Mellick and Gamble Fields and to install new fences, light poles, bleacher areas and a scoreboard originally had been pegged at about $950,000 and was to start this fall.
Recently, however, a cost-estimate came back about $600,000 higher than that, according to Scott Werneburg, president of New Canaan Baseball, and officials are not willing to rush into a project now without further pricing out of materials as well as total confidence that it could be wrapped up by spring.
“The prudent course of action was not wanting to risk onset of winter and not being able to compete our fields and risk losing our spring season,” he told members of the Town Council during their regular meeting, held at Town Hall.
“And the smart course of action is to take our time, get through this process and hopefully have our selected contractor this fall and be able to order early and plan everything to go to construction in August next year after the baseball season has ended.”
The re-engineered project will accomplish many of the big-ticket items originally imagined, he said: turf on the infields, increased playability, improved drainage and new backstops, scoreboard and fencing.
However, a plan to re-orient Gamble Field so that home plate no longer backs up to a swampy area to the south will not be possible, he said.
The specific high costs—some 80 percent of the $600,000 overrun—have mostly do to with a code issue connected to lighting, Werneberg said.
“Because we were scraping and effectively reorienting some of fields and by code, when you try to move one of the existing light poles, there is a whole new standard that you must adhere to that is required,” he said. “And so our lighting bill of that $600,000 was $480,000, which of course we expected to be a small, small fraction of that. So that drove us to reengineer the project and that is what we are working on now.”
The lighting in place now is “completely adequate” for Mellick and Gamble Fields, he said.
In April, the Board of Finance and Town Council voted to commit $500,000 in bonding for the fields project at Mead, with New Canaan Baseball was to contribute $450,000 as well as whatever was needed for cost overruns.
That same partnership will hold for the deferred project next year, and Werneburg said New Canaan Baseball has its share of the funding in hand now and will continue to fundraise actively in the interim. In addition to the lighting, Werneburg said it looks like New Canaan Baseball can find savings in scrapping a plan to rebuild the dirt road that runs back of the fields ($35,000) and can save some money in an estimated $120,000 of concrete expenses by using asphalt selectively.
Councilmen asked how many bids came in for the project (two), whether the cost estimates include a contingency fee (no but that can be bolted onto the numbers now) and who made the decision to postpone the project (New Canaan Baseball has been in continuous consultation with Department of Public Works Director Tiger Mann, Parks Superintendent John Howe and Recreation Director Steve Benko).
Councilman Kathleen Corbet thanked Werneburg for the update and said that although it’s disappointing to not get into the ground straightaway, “you actually have described a picture-perfect way in which things need to be done.”