Slow & Steady Progress on Parks & Rec Projects — Fields, Indoor Field House, Lightning Detection and Merwin Playground

The Feb. 9 meeting of the Parks & Recreation Department included updates on a series of resilience projects currently underway. With department officials knee deep in the town’s current budget process and the spring sports season on the horizon, efforts to avoid environmental outcomes like those seen after Hurricane Ida last fall remain high priority.

Indoor Field House Project Concept Exploration Update

Engineering consultant Stantec has been working on a feasibility study for adding an indoor field house at Comstock Community Center. Approved by the Board of Selectmen in May, the study will include evaluation of existing conditions, a geotechnical investigation, concept plan, code review, and estimated capital and life cycle costs. The scope of the study does not include design.

Parks & Recreation Director Steve Pierce noted that the initial findings from Stantec are in but the review team, which includes First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, has not yet had an opportunity to meet and review them. With Wilton’s new Chief Financial Officer Dawn Norton coming on board in just a few weeks and the budget process wrapping up soon, Pierce hopes that a meeting with the First Selectwoman on the Stantec report could happen later this month.

The delay did not appear to surprise the Commission, as Chair Anna Marie Bilella had explained at last month’s meeting that delays were likely given the timing of the budget season and CFO transition.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the bus is going to slow down a bit but it’s a reality. And we do need to make the next fiscal year budget a priority, we don’t have a choice. I just set that out there so you all understand the pinch it puts us all in,” she said. “It is what it is.”

Field Mitigation Plan

Stantec is also developing a proposal for mitigation efforts at Fujitani Field at Wilton High School’s Veterans Memorial Stadium. This analysis will assess the existing conditions and offer potential mitigation solutions to help prevent future storms from inflicting the extfieldent of damage that was seen last fall, when the fields at WHS were closed for weeks for restoration.

Pierce announced that preliminary findings from Stantec would be delivered later that week and introduced the Commission to Frank Smeriglio, Wilton’s newly-named Director of Public Works, for further detail.

Pierce and Smeriglio, an engineer by trade, ran through the upcoming steps in the proposal process. In this phase, Stantec will be assessing the current state of run off and draining. Next they will look at mitigation options in cases of so-called 1-year, 5-year, 10-year, and 25-year floods. However, Smeriglio noted, these names can be misleading.

“These storms are called a 25-year storm or a 50-year storm, but that doesn’t mean that it happens once every 25 years or once every 50 years,” he said. “Basically a 25-year storm means there is a 4% chance that it could happen any year.”

The rainfall Wilton experienced during Hurricane Ida far exceeded any of these benchmarks. At six inches of rain in six hours, the storm last fall lies on the fringes of a 500-year storm, Smeriglio explained. Wilton’s current model is designed to withstand a 5-year or 10-year storm, roughly 5 inches of water over 24 hours.

Pierce and Bilella referenced the need to continue thinking of the surrounding sites as a complex in need of coordinated mitigation solutions. Commission Member John Macken asked whether a change to artificial turf was part of the assessment process, and what effects that would have on drainage in the surrounding area, which Pierce confirmed was being explored as part of a larger mitigation assessment.

Lightning Detection System Update

Although the lightning detection system equipment arrived on site last month, installation has been delayed due to weather. Pierce explained that he expected installation to be complete within three months, but that ice and snow had complicated the process.

This safety measure would make a loud sound alerting users of Wilton fields and anyone in an 8-mile radius of the presence of lightning in the area. The system also includes a “clear to go” signal when the threat of lightning has passed and a mobile device alert system that residents can opt into using.

Town-Wide Field Drainage & Irrigation Project

Pierce gave the Commission an update on the broader drainage and irrigation project. A request for proposals (RFP) is being drafted and will be available soon. The RFP will seek firms willing to explore design options for drainage and — if needed — irrigation at a series of public spaces around town.

Priority sites include Middlebrook fields 1, 2, 3, and the football field; Miller-Driscoll field; the Wilton High School junior varsity softball field; the Allen’s Meadow‘s baseball field; and Comstock’s soccer field, depending on the outcome of the dome proposal. Commission member Joe Guglielmo is leading this effort in coordination with Pierce.

Looking Ahead

As part of the staff report, Pierce noted that the spring and summer brochure is being developed now and registration will open on March 1.

“We’re going to have a nice summer with a lot of special events within the community,” he said. “The Fourth of July will be back, we’re looking forward to that.”

With support from Vanderslice, the Parks and Rec Department is also accepting bids for new playground equipment at Merwin Meadows to replace the structure added in the mid-1990s, which was funded by local parents.

The next meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission is scheduled for Wednesday, March 9.