When there are multiple needs for additional playing fields, which need gets met?3>
With a Public Hearing scheduled at this evening’s Planning & Zoning Commission Meeting for an expansion of the playing fields at the back of the Antolini School – price tag as yet unknown – and with a proposal for regional sports fields at RRDD#1, not to mention the Northwestern Regional # 7′s Football players whose numbers have grown to the point where the Gilbert-Northwestern Football co-op may not be an option for much longer, this may be the right time to call a moratorium on spending any more taxpayers’ money on the town’s recreational needs until a comprehensive needs assessment has been carried out.
Yes, I too have heard the argument that the town desperately needs more playing fields. This has been said by various Youth Sports representatives, by the Rec Commission members and by the town’s First Selectman whose years of volunteering as a coach have given him the inside track on the needs of Youth Sports. But thus far, this need for more sports fields has been anectodal, and not based on a concrete assessment of the actual numbers of New Hartford players, of the number of sports programs being offered and of how our existing field space is being utilized.
Recently, frustrated at the lack of concrete data to support this oft-repeated need for more playing fields, I obtained the Fall practice schedules of all the active sports teams in town, drew up maps of all town-owned properties with field space available to active sports and I wrote on each field space the days and hours it was being used for practices. And my findings? They were surprising: Some field space was not being utilized at all, while other field space was being used by small groups for only a few hours a week, while one park area, without any infrastructure to support active sports, was the most utilized by far. And these findings did not include the field space at Brown’s Corner, a town park that is now being used exclusively by active sports, since that field space is not used for practices, I was told. See the April 18, 2012 NewHartfordPlus article Practice Spaces Available For Active Sports On Town-Owned Land: Supply Vs. Demand.
I brought my findings to the Rec Commission and it was acknowledged that the field space is divvied up by the sports programs themselves, without any oversight from Rec. “Coaches usually pick the field space closest to their home!” Rec Commission member Dan Eddy confirmed. That’s OK for them to allocate the field space in this organic way, but when the town is being asked to fund more playing fields, then a more formal way of allocating field space is necessary.
Don’t get me wrong: If more field space is needed, then I will not begrudge funding it with taxpayers’ money. But that need must be supported by facts, not by urban legend.
This year’s town budget includes $25,000 for improvements to the Antolini field. Although no cost estimate has yet to be allocated by the First Selectman’s to his proposed expansion of the Antolini field area, that cost will no doubt be many times that figure. One has only to look at the $180,000 that was allocated in the past two town budgets to take care of the Brown’s Corner parking lot to understand that the Antolini field expansion will be much more costly. As far as the cost of field expansion, the only cost estimate available to me is a 1996 cost estimate to develop a sports complex at Brodie Park South; that estimate was for $283,000. The 1996 cost estimate for proposed soccer fields at Brodie Park South was presented to the Recreation Commission on November 6, 1996, by Rick Berneike. Download a copy of that cost estimate: 1996 Brodie Park South Sports Complex Cost Estimate (20).
Recreation Needs Assessment A La Barkhamsted
How to best carry out a Recreation Needs Assessment? I would use as a model the 2010 Recreation Needs Assessment carried out by Barkhamsted. The Board of Finance convened a Recreation Needs Committee which included the First Selectman, the Superintendent of Schools, the Director of Youth Soccer, and other heads of recreational organizations. According to the Recreation Needs Committee page of the Barkhamsted web site:
“In fall 2010, the Board of Finance requested that an informal study be performed to create a plan for recreational needs, essentially a “plan of development”. This plan was to include land, facilities, meeting space, or other needs for the various youth and adult recreation programs in town.
To accomplish that goal, a group was formed that included many of the leaders of the various recreational organizations in town. This committee met in December 2010 and January 2011 to respond to the Board of Finance request.”
The Barkhamsted Recreational Needs Committee came up with a Barkhamsted Recreational Needs White Paper which included the needs of Youth Sports, the local elementary school and the Seniors. Download a PDF of the Barkhamsted Recreational Needs White Paper: Barkhamsted Recreational Needs White Paper (19).
When There’s A Need…
The need for a Recreational needs assessment in New Hartford is clear: Without such an assessment New Hartford will continue to put its recreational funds towards projects that meet the needs of the “squeakiest wheels” without those being necessarily the most needed projects for the whole community. Before any more taxpayer money is allocated to any one interest group’s recreational needs, I for one will be asking: “Where is the New Hartford Recreational Needs White Paper?”
Maria Moore is the Editor of NewHartfordPlus.com, of which she is a principal. Maria is also a member of the New Hartford Board of Finance.