First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice wanted to make sure she was the town official who had to break the bad news to Wilton residents. Thursday, she emailed an update explaining that post-storm restoration of the Wilton High School stadium track and field would require closing both amenities for up to four weeks.

“It was important to acknowledge that I am ultimately accountable and any frustration with the work throughout this process should be on me,” she told GOOD Morning Wilton.

Her email explained in extensive detail what’s involved in restoring and repairing the turf field and track after excessive rainfall during Hurricane Ida washed away much of the coconut husk infill and saturated the turf with mud.

While the damage was caused by an extreme natural event, Vanderslice understands that many residents may be frustrated by what happened. Closing the field for so long will mean disruption to WHS and youth sports, and to other residents who use the track.

“We have a great team that will be doing all they can to complete the restoration as quickly as they can, but the loss of the field and the track for up to four weeks is difficult and disruptive. It’s particularly difficult for residents who regularly use the facilities, especially student-athletes and their parents. They deserve to have all the information and an honest assessment about the time frame,” she told GMW.

Some residents saw the closure as evidence that Wilton needs more turf fields, pointing to other nearby towns that have several more turfed athletic facilities.

Moreover, the track surface is only a little over four weeks brand new and was just recently reopened after the town closed the facility over the summer to replace the track at a cost of $973,300. Officials cut the ribbon on Aug. 25.

In her update, Vanderslice wrote that several of the professionals involved in developing a response plan are principals with the firms that originally consulted on and installed Wilton’s two turf fields and track. She said they have been very responsive and will be involved in the restoration as it proceeds.

Work to repair the field has already begun, including cleaning and removal of the dirt and mud from the turf blades. While many residents reached out to town officials to offer their help in order to expedite the restoration process, Vanderslice explained that in order to prevent further damage to the turf and track, the town can only turn to the trained professionals who installed the amenities. She thanked them for their patience.

“Many of you have generously reached out to offer your labor to assist with the restoration. It is greatly appreciated, but unfortunately as documented … , our high-performance surfaces require individuals with specialized training using specialized tools.”

She also provided a video clip of cleanup work already underway.

Vanderslice explained that she’s not concerned about how the restoration will be funded, as it’s likely that FEMA will cover a large portion of the cost and the town already has secured some budget savings from other budgeted areas.

Below is the full text of Vanderslice’s update:

I am pleased to share that the responsiveness of the outside professionals who consulted on and installed the two turf fields and the track has been excellent.  Following initial evaluations, a restoration work plan was developed and approved by the following group: Field General Superintendent from Shaw Sports Turf, President of Track from Cape & Islands Tennis & Track, original consultants from Santac, including Sports Group Lead, Parks & Recreation Director Steve Pierce, Parks & Grounds Supervisor Doug Katz, Asst. DPW Director and Town Engineer Frank Smeriglio, WPS Athletic Director Chris McDougal, Parks and Recreation Chair Anna Marie Bilella, Parks & Recreation Commissioner and Member of the Track Committee John Macken and me.  Thank you to Parks and Recreation Director Steve Pierce for his leadership of this team.

The plan and associated timeline is below, but first some background.  The turf fields consist of four main components: the under surface, which includes drains which collects water from the field, the Brock concussion padding, the turf blades and the coconut husk and sand infill.  The stadium complex includes the turf field, an outer channel drain, which collects water runoff from the track, and the outer track.

The Plan

    • Removal of debris and silt from in between the blades of the Stadium turf field. [Wednesday], employees from Shaw Sport Turf began this work. Shaw uses their own specialized motorized vehicle for this work.
    • Removal of mud from the surface of the Stadium turf field. Employees of Shaw are also performing this work with specialized tools.
    • Infiltration testing of the field (drainage testing). Fortunately, the #1 firm recommended for this work, Firefly Sports Testing, is available and will begin work [Friday].
    • Cleaning and testing of the channel drain. Firefly will also perform this work. This cleaning requires great care to ensure the removed debris doesn’t end up on the track or the turf field.
    • Removal of debris, mud and silt from the track and any materials transferred onto the track during the turf cleaning process. [Thursday], employees from Cape & Islands began this work using specialized tools. Specialized tools are required as regular shovels and brushes or the dragging of debris across the track can result in damage.
    • Power cleaning of the track to remove debris and silt that settled in between the rubber on the track. Cape & Island will perform this work.
    • Removal of staining on the track caused by the debris. Cape & Island will perform this work.
    • Installation of new coconut husk and sand infill.  We have secured sufficient infill for the Stadium turf. In applying the infill Shaw will be adjusting the coconut husk/sand ratio to improve cold weather play. (Note, there are supply chain issues with the infill, so we don’t yet have a delivery date for additional infill materials for the Lilly turf field.)
    • Coordination and the ordering of the above tasks are critical to minimize the disruption that one task could potentially cause another.
    • Removal of debris from the large drain behind the field. Beginning [Friday], this work is being performed by a local subcontractor.
    • Disposal and transportation of the debris by Wilton Parks and Grounds.

The estimated time frame to complete this work is up to four weeks. The time frame assumes no major failure of the draining system under the field. We will be able to refine the time frame as we reach certain milestones.

As far as the future, Santac has been engaged to assist in developing a mitigation plan should a storm of similar intensity occur again. They will be onsite [Friday].

The cost for of the restoration has not been finalized, but funding is not an impediment to restoration, as we have options:

    • If a major disaster is declared for Connecticut, as was for New York and New Jersey, FEMA will cover up to 75% of the cost, or
    • This fiscal year we are receiving other FEMA funds that can be used for this purpose, or
    • The Board of Selectmen FY2022 actual operating results already have budget favorability due to a medical premium increase of 1% versus the 3% budgeted estimate.

Many of you have generously reached out to offer your labor to assist with the restoration.  It is greatly appreciated, but unfortunately as documented above, our high-performance surfaces require individuals with specialized training using specialized tools.

Again, thank you for continued patience.

Lynne A Vanderslice
First Selectwoman