Town officials last week pooh-poohed a local woman’s suggestion that one or two bocce courts go in at Irwin Park, saying she should seek alternate locations and put together a more formal proposal that has wide backing.
Parks & Recreation Commissioner Sally Campbell during the appointed body’s Nov. 13 meeting told New Canaan resident Liz Orteig that she should connect with locals who had won support three years ago to put bocce courts in at Mead Park.
Campbell asserted that Irwin Park is deed-restricted—though officials noted that there are still areas there where bocce courts could go, see below—and questioned Orteig about applying to a local nonprofit origination for grant money for the project.
“Before we entertain anything, I would like to see what your research has,” Campbell said at the meeting, held at Lapham Community Center. “Are they in other parks? Are they used? How many people use them? Is there leagues? I would like to see what other towns do and participation, because you would have to alter a park in order to put this in.”
She later added, “I would like to see that there is a group behind you. That there’s people. That there’s an interest. Because I think it’s a great theory to have it, but we don’t now who is interested.”
Orteig, who had made the same suggestion for bocce at Irwin two years ago, said New Canaan “needs a public bocce court.”
“We have a lot of Italian people who would go to the Italian heritage of the town—I myself am half-Italian—and I never played it as a kid, but I used to go to the Jersey shore and there was a beautiful park overlooking the bay, the sun would set, they had a town concert every Wednesday and we played bocce until it got dark and it was lovely, and I really think it would be a great asset for New Canaan.”
Orteig said the game is widely accessible (“If you can throw a ball you can manage it”) and that it would be a nice addition at Irwin.
“Irwin Park was originally an estate, and they had a pool and a pool house which is a historic property and a lot of people have bocce courts on their estates. It’s not unheard of. It would go with that theme. Also it would go in a public park. It could be designed in such a way that it could go with the whole ambiance of the park. I am hoping to get the Garden Club involved with this. I do know they were given a bequest of $400,000 many years ago—I don’t know how much of it they’ve spent—to do landscaping in Irwin Park. They were entrusted with that. So hopefully if it’s there and it’s a fait accompli, they may want to do the design work. I know a lot of the ladies love to design. This gives them something to design around.”
She added, “I think this might attract people. I live close by Irwin Park. It is used by dog walkers and joggers. Why shouldn’t we attract more interest to Irwin Park? I really don’t go there because I’m not a jogger and I don’t have a dog. Mead Park is heavily utilized and I think it would be nice to be out in an open space rather than kind of corralled into a corner.”
No Garden Club representatives spoke at the meeting.
To Campbell’s warning that Irwin had restrictions on use, Recreation Director Steve Benko noted that a bocce court could go in the park’s “athletic fields, or it could also go out in front of house in the walled area.”
“That area is allowed to have a passage like badminton or volleyball or bocce,” he said. “You could put a baseball field or a tennis court out in the field. The area behind house is more of a natural area.”
Orteig said she was proposing recreational bocce—a 10-by-60-foot court without lights—rather than league play, which requires a 91-by-13-foot court. Two courts could be installed for $20,000, she said.
Commissioner Francesca Segalas it would be helpful to know that there’s wide interest in casual bocce rather than league play.
“Then we can shy away from the league size because the league size I would feel would not be so great because it would also bring in people from other towns and we would rather just have locals using it who aren’t serious,” she said.
Parks Superintendent John Howe said that Mead Park’s former horseshoe pit area out by the new playground emerged as a good spot for bocce because lights could be used for evening play there. According to Howe, officials also settled on a stone-dust court treatment, rather than clay, because it’s more manageable.
To the suggestion of Mead Park, Orteig said, “That location is kind of nasty. It’s swampy.”
She added, “My husband tells me it used to be swamp and it’s mosquito-infested.”
To Campbell’s assertion that New Canaan shouldn’t pursue the court without knowing many people would use it, Orteig said, “Actually it’s a low impact thing, it’s really just a curb and an area, so knocking it down if nobody uses it would be a big job.”
Ultimately, Orteig agreed to return to the Commission with a list of people interested and assurances that she looked at various park locations.
The idea of installing bocce courts in New Canaan emerged in September 2015, when a pair of town residents—John Buzzeo and Len Paglialunga—came forward with the idea of putting a pair near Lapham Community Center. They soon switched their proposed location to the former horseshoe pits at Mead, beyond Gamble’s right-field fence. Parks & Recreation approved that plan in May 2016, but within a few months a call went out to the community to help with funding, and nothing happened.