With a fresh infusion of four new members, the Parks and Recreation Commission has recently been revived.
In its first meeting since Oct. 12, 2022, the commission wasted no time getting down to business, with Wilton’s unmet needs for sports playing fields at the top of the agenda, along with plans for replacing the playground at Merwin Meadows.
A New Beginning
New members Alix Korpan, Andrew Maria, Mark McAndrews and Mike Schmidt were appointed by the Board of Selectmen (BOS) on May 8 and made their first appearance at a commission meeting on June 21.
They joined John Macken — the only member of the commission who did not resign last fall. Between the commission’s September and October meetings, three members — Jennifer Kendra, Joe Guglielmo, Kevin Ring — all announced their resignations, along with the commission’s chair, Anna Marie Bilella.
With those vacant positions and lack of quorum, the commission was unable to function for months. During that time, the Board of Selectmen (BOS) continued to pursue plans for a new turf field at Allen’s Meadow — an effort which failed to meet voters’ approval on a bonding referendum at the 2023 Annual Town Meeting.
The new commission voted unanimously to elect Macken as chairperson, and Korpan as secretary.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, who oversees the Parks and Recreation Department, attended the June 21 commission meeting.
Vanderslice briefly reviewed the original BOS strategy to begin to address the needs for playable sports fields. The “two-prong plan” envisioned earlier in 2022 involved budgeting $500,000 in ARPA funds for plans and improvements at the Middlebrook grass fields in addition to proposing a new turf field with lights.
“The turf field didn’t pass, but that doesn’t mean all the issues went away… we still have all the same issues, with lack of lit fields, lack of access to fields, groups that want to be on turf not being able to get on turf… all those issues still exist,” Vanderslice said. “Following the Annual Town Meeting vote, we [BOS] said we’d like this commission to take a look at priorities.”
“Under the circumstances — and let’s assume all we ever get is $500,000, that’s in the bag — is the best use of that to put it all into [Middlebrook] or is there a better way to maximize the benefits we would get from that $500,000?” Vanderslice asked the commission.
She noted that the approved funding would be sufficient for installing drainage and irrigation on Middlebrook fields 1 and 2 and the football field, but would stop short of any work to re-grade those fields or improve lighting.
In a document which she presented at the meeting, Vanderslice offered the commission several of her “thoughts for consideration,” including:
- Are all Middlebrook fields equally critical?
- Should we light Guy Whitten [field] and address field issues at the same time as the WHS drainage project?
- Install lights on both sides of the field
- Install irrigation
- Grade the field to eliminate the crown
- Increase budget for sodding and maintenance
- Address other lighting issues within the WHS Complex?
- Light the area from Cider Mill to the Stadium-playing fields and pathway
- Install lights on the backside of tennis court lights to light the parking lot.
- Improve safety in the parking lot and crosswalk
- Address flooding of Miller-Driscoll field?
- Install curb along roadway or berm between the field and roadway
- Only allow use of half the field for practice at Lilly and the Stadium?
- Staff install/clear temporary field hockey lines on Lilly for youth field hockey use?
- Examine and discuss WHS’s 25% increase in requested turf usage?
The commissioners, clearly trying to get up to speed quickly on the playing field issues and the history of efforts to address them, spoke with Vanderslice and Parks & Rec Dept. Director Steve Pierce about the various topics Vanderslice raised.
A video recording of the entire discussion can be found on the Town website.
“Obviously we have a lot to think about here,” Macken said in response to Vanderslice’s points. “It’s a good starting point. Hopefully all of us [commissioners] will have other things to add, things we agree with or disagree with. We’ve got a group that wants to get stuff done, so we have a lot to think about, and we’ll do that.”
Merwin Meadows Playground Proposal Advances
The commission took concrete action on bids received for replacing the outdated playground equipment at Merwin Meadows.
Four bids for the project were received. Two were eliminated for not meeting the Town’s requirements. The commission unanimously voted in favor of a bid from Creative Recreation, LLC, a West Hartford-based equipment company. (A competitive bid from a New Jersey-based vendor at the same price is also posted on the Town website.)
The project — which comes with a $175,000 price tag, including installation — will include a complete overhaul of the playground aimed at 5- to 12-year-olds, with a “refresh” (clean, paint and wax) of the playscape for younger children.
Commissioner Andrew Maria will represent the commission in working with Pierce to finalize details of the equipment, as proposed in the following renderings:
The Board of Selectmen is expected to vote on whether to approve the Creative Recreation contract at a June 28 special meeting.