The private group that oversees youth baseball in New Canaan wants to fund a full re-grading of the little league fields at Mead Park—a project that could cost $1 million and hasn’t been done in 42 years, recreation officials say.
New Canaan Baseball Softball Inc., a nonprofit organization, are at appoint where “serious capital expenditures” are needed to bring it up to snuff, the group’s president, Jim Higgins, told the Park & Recreation Commission at its most recent regular meeting.
“To cut to the chase, Mellick and Gamble are long, long, long overdue for a major renovation and New Canaan Baseball is proposing to—out of our own money and money that we raised—spent somewhere between half a million and a million dollars, completely redoing Mellick and Gamble,” Higgins said at the March 11 meeting, held in the Douglass Room at Lapham Community Center.
“When I say ‘redo,’ the footprint stays the same, we are not asking to change any aspect of the park, so the footprints of the fields will stay where they are. But we think the only way to do it right is to scrape the whole fields. The most critical part about it is to put in state-of-the-art drainage. Because you can make the surface of the field look nice but if the drainage stinks, it doesn’t really matter because you are constantly either in a swamp or under puddles.”
The commission gave Higgins the green light to pursue architectural and engineering studies to understand better the scope and cost of the project.
According to Higgins, the grade differential between the right and left outfield corners at Mellick is about 15 feet.
“It’s extraordinary, the grade changes that are out there at this point,” he said. “They are tired and frankly beyond tired, especially if you travel around and play baseball at other towns and you see some really nice extraordinary fields. We’ve got the setting when we play some travel games and some travel leagues, teams are requesting to play games at Mead Park because it’s such a magnificent place, but the fields, they are not up to snuff.”
The discussion arose after commissioners approved a series of other capital projects at Mead to be funded by New Canaan Baseball Softball Inc. Those include using border collies to scare away Canada geese whose droppings soil especially the large baseball field, and hanging a windscreen on that field’s outfield fence.
Commissioners’ questions to Higgins on the proposed re-grading of Mellick and Gamble included whether the organization has donors lined up (they have about $250,000 “ready to go,” Higgins said), whether they planned to use synthetic turf (no), and whether they would ensure that in creating a drainage system the abutting playground area would not take in more water (yes).
The commission’s chair, Sally Campbell, asked specifically about money because the same organization a few years back had proposed turfing a baseball field at Waveny (known as the Orchard Field), and that project won municipal approvals but went nowhere because of a lack of funds.
Commissioner Jason Milligan said he saw no reason not to support the project so long as it’s not expanding the fields, and that it would be an added bonus if the new drainage system cleared the former horseshoe pits area beyond the outfield fences—an often underutilized area by the playground where the siblings of baseball players often hang out during games.
Recreation Director Steve Benko said the project would take about two months to complete, and likely could be started around Sept. 1 without disrupting any programs.
New Canaan Baseball’s income is $516,194, according to the organization’s 990 tax form.
“The bottom line is, we shouldn’t be relying on voluntary contributions for the town to do what the town should be doing itself. I feel strongly about that. There are certain things that the town should pay for, as a town.” / Nick Williams
Mead Park is such a great natural resource for New Canaan yet the baseball fields, where hundreds of our children enjoy our national pastime, are in such a state of neglect and disrepair. This project is long overdue and I do believe that the town and the private sector should collaborate and give New Canaan the state of the art facility that it deserves.
Considering the heavy snow this winter (and, as of tomorrow, spring) and the notoriously poor drainage, I wonder how long it will take for the fields to dry out… How did Darien fund the indoor batting cages and grading of fields at Cherry Lawn?