2012-09-05 / Sports

Is the Philipstown Fields Project Sidelined?

By Annie Chesnut

Philipstown Park on Tuesday. 
Chris Layton Philipstown Park on Tuesday. Chris Layton After an extended springtime rush, a multi-group effort to repair or upgrade a playing field at the Philipstown Recreation Center has apparently ground to a halt.

Now, the town is studying other priorities, including substantial infrastructure needs throughout the town, beyond just the fields. And it is currently unclear where the town fields effort will end up – even as the Haldane side of the project, which started more slowly, is now going great guns.

The town’s effort had an auspicious beginning. In the early spring—after the comprehensive Philipstown Athletic Fields Study had been completed and the 50+- page report released—there was a flurry of activity. One effort was to make good on recommendations about the fields at Town Park, which are managed by Philipstown’s Recreation Department, and had been deemed in need of repair. The specific recommendations for Town Park fields include:

• Remove grass and topsoil and regrade subgrade for positive drainage;

• Install underdrain system to improve drainage; and

• Test existing topsoil and amend for reuse- install 6” minimum topsoil and grass seed or sod.

Recreation Director Amber Stickle spearheaded an effort with the Town Board to see what could be done in order to implement these recommendations so that the fields in question could be made ready for use in the fall.

It was around that time that Garrison builder and soccer coach, Joe Regele, proposed that the Town seriously consider installing synthetic turf on the north field. Regele is widely known as a taxpayer watchdog who has taken municipal agencies to task over what he says are spending and accounting issues. So it was out of character, Regele admitted, for him to be encouraging the Town to spend money on synthetic turf.

Nevertheless, there was a series of workshops from April to June, some contentious, some less so, during which Regele offered his assistance in seeking detailed information on the costs and benefits of synthetic turf vs. natural grass.

The dynamics were complicated. The Recreation Commission, which oversees all recreation activities in the Town, had already made its own recommendations, and some Commission members, including Stickle, seemed at times either blindsided or disconcerted by Regele’s entry into the discussion.

At one meeting commissioner Claudio Marzollo became demonstrably angry and left early; more than once Councilman Dave Merandy appeared completely disgusted with the process. But ultimately, given the evidence and the possibility that with the use of soon-to-expire bonds on the Recreation budget line and fundraising that Regele offered to spearhead, it looked as though the project might have legs.

That was in June.

In a mid-August conversation, Supervisor Richard Shea gave us an update on where the project stands.

Regarding the recent lack of movement, Shea said, “Everything is a process with the Town. When I grew up, a field was a field, was a field. We’re taking a hard look at prioritizing.”

We noted how odd it seemed for the project to grind to a halt when both he and Stickle had indicated early on how important it was to get the work accomplished quickly. Everything did move along quickly initially, Shea acknowledged. Joe Regele came in with his suggestion for synthetic turf, and offered to spearhead fundraising. Some members of the Rec Commission and the Town Council had concerns, but things kept moving. “And then, I had to take a step back and say, Is this going to be the priority for where the money’s going to be spent.”

Referencing that the boiler at the Rec Center has to be replaced, and the Town is in the process of updating the security system there, Shea added, “We were waiting for the final notice on the [boiler] grant, and coincidentally the [Recreation Department] road bond is winding down.”

The Town also has to repaint the inside of the water tower that stands near the Rec Center. “We’re trying to be proactive on aging infrastructure,” Shea said. “We’re putting together a priority list. The field project will probably be a repair [and not a replacement] for now.”

Another concern the Town had, Shea said, was the State’s position that the Town could not engage in a design/build scenario for project bidders. Not being able to solicit design/builders means that the Town has to come up with detailed project specifications that may not match everyone’s building process. “New York State is going to do design/build for the Tappan Zee Bridge: Why can’t we do our fields design/build?”

So, he concluded, “It may be good to slow down because this is a big expenditure. It may take a while longer, but you get it right.”

Shea said the boiler replacement at the Rec Department is being paid for via a grant from the State Dormitory Authority, with 15 to 20 percent of the cost payable by the Town, potentially through use of an existing bond line in the Recreation budget. It was these recreation-related bonds that were originally mentioned as potentially providing at least a portion of the cost for resurfacing the field at Town Park.

“In this economy you can’t let bonds go,” Shea reiterated. Given the 2-percent cap on increases in municipal tax levies from year to year, once a bond line is going, it cannot easily be reinstated.

Ironically, given the head of steam that the group had built up earlier in the year, Shea did not seem overly concerned about the fields that took up so much meeting and planning time.

“Fortunately,” he said, “It’s been a good year for growing grass.”

Here are some excerpts from reporting by the PCN&R, which covered every meeting:

May 2, 2012:

Stickle, however, noted that “the park is in such disarray… we should take care of what we have” first.

As the meeting closed, Regele was set to assist with the preparation of two requests for proposals: one for a grass north field, and one for a synthetic turf north field.

May 16, 2012

“We own a resource [Town Park],” Shea said. “If we’re going to keep a program going at Rec, this isn’t a luxury.”

“I just feel that that’s a community and a voters’ decision.” Merandy responded.

“These are mandatory requirements,” Shea noted. “In order to maintain the Park and run the Park we need to do something with the field.”

“I guess I’m coming from this other world [school] where everything’s under a magnifying glass,” Merandy replied.

June 6, 2012

We spoke directly with Supervisor Richard Shea last Wednesday about the delay, and he said that the reason for the delay was that “the RFPs needed a little more work.” He added that the paperwork had been passed on to Ron Gainer, the Town Engineer, so “when they come back they’ll have more useful information… when they go out we want them to have as much information as possible.” Noting that the Recreation Commission had met the night before, Shea said, “I don’t know what the discussion was.”

“I am as anxious as anyone” to get the project moving, Shea said, but noted that he did not want to “make haste” either.

Regele told the PCN&R that he found it odd that—in mid April—he was given just five days to complete a significant amount of research regarding his synthetic turf suggestion, but that now, with June on the way, things were slowing down. Regele also said he had been looking at options for raising private funds but could not proceed without a definite plan in place.

June 13, 2012

For her part, Stickle— with a note of exasperation—said that the amount of communication and discussion was, in her view, getting “out of control” and suggested having a smaller committee of people to work with. Given that John Maasik and Stephanie Hawkins were the only Recreation Commission representatives there, they volunteered to work with Stickle and Merandy on finetuning the request drafts with Gainer.

After this exchange Shea again reminded everyone to take a breath and not lose sight of the goal. “I would really like to get the RFPs out so we can…look at them, compare them, and make a decision.”

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