The Wilton Athletic and Recreation Foundation (WARF), a non-profit organization created in 2018 to help advocate and fundraise for improved athletic fields and facilities in Wilton, is gaining steam and kick-starting efforts to create a new turf field.
WARF recently announced major changes to its organization and has offered to contribute $60,000 toward the cost of a study to evaluate a potential turf field site at Allen’s Meadows.
An Expanding Organization
Representing WARF at the June 21 Board of Selectmen meeting, Wilton’s J.R. Sherman updated the Board on the expansion of both the WARF organization and its mission.
Sherman explained that WARF’s early aspirations were narrowly focused on selling corporate sponsorships of banners at Veterans Memorial Stadium at Wilton High School. While those efforts were initially very successful, the COVID-19 pandemic hindered progress as sports programs came to a halt.
In the post-pandemic era, Sherman said, new opportunities have emerged.
“As we looked at 2022 to start back up and get excited about this again with the corporate sponsors, we simultaneously were beginning to speak with what is known as the [Wilton Youth Sports Coalition],” which includes representatives of the various youth sports organizations as well as booster clubs at the high school.
“The Coalition, along with WARF, both said, we need something more consistent,” Sherman continued. “We need an easier way to work with the Town of Wilton in all of its departments… to create what I would call a unified and consistent voice to work with and collaborate with the Town of Wilton to meet the needs of all youth athletics.”
Sherman noted that a fragmented, sport-by-sport approach has been unproductive.
“Through the fall and into the winter, meeting with all of the sports coalition and all of the youth athletic directors and presidents, we decided the best path forward was to merge all of this into a single effort,” he said.
That single effort now would be under the WARF umbrella, with “a broader executive board and an operating board, as well as a VP representing every youth athletic foundation,” according to Sherman.
“This group would come together for the purpose of collaboration and communication, and most importantly, a unified list of priorities that we could work with the Town to help get done,” Sherman said.
Specifically, Sherman said, the new WARF was poised to begin fundraising campaigns.
“It’s the most unified I’ve ever seen in the last 30 years, seeing all of the sports leaders in town, and we’re really excited to move forward,” Sherman concluded.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice congratulated Sherman on the organization’s evolution and the success of bringing the sports groups together.
“I know you’ve worked on it a long time, so it’s great news and congratulations,” said Vanderslice, who also acknowledged the efforts of Sherman’s fellow WARF leaders Dave Clune and Dave Cote.
The Path to a New Field
The BOS has spent the past several months sifting through requests from various Town departments, all vying for a slice of the $6.6 million pie available in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Town’s Infrastructure funds.
Last March, the Parks and Recreation Commission submitted one such request for a new turf field. The Commission had asked for $700,000, $200,000 of which would be applied to the design phase and $500,000 would be put toward the estimated $2 million total construction cost.
But the BOS did not immediately approve the turf field funding — though it did approve $500,000 for a more urgent Parks and Rec project to improve drainage and irrigation at the Middlebrook School complex, including five football, softball and soccer fields. Instead, the BOS envisioned a different approach for the new turf.
Vanderslice reiterated during the June 21 BOS meeting why the board was choosing to take a different path for funding a new turf field. Essentially, a new turf field would meet the criteria for bonding, thus allowing the ARPA funds to be allocated for other projects not eligible to be bonded.
“We did want to prioritize the turfing of another field,” Vanderslice emphasized.
“We are having this [Amenities Master Plan],” Vanderslice said. “We want to do that study, but we want to be able to push this [new turf] initiative as quickly as can be. I think this is a way to get it done, by us taking a look at [Allen’s Meadows fields] five and six and having that analysis done there, so by the fall we’ll be able to say yes or no on that field. Hopefully, they’re able to figure something out.”
That assessment of the field site is where WARF’s $60,000 contribution will come in to play.
Vanderslice envisions that once the assessment of the field is done, a final cost estimate can be developed to present to voters as a bonding referendum at the Annual Town Meeting next May.
Along with his fellow BOS members, Selectman Ross Tartell voiced support for the strategy.
“I think it really helps us solve for accelerating getting another turf field,” Tartell said. “We don’t need an amenities study to tell us we need another turf field. What we need to do is figure out how to move that forward. This gives us a way to solve for moving ahead.”
He also highlighted the new momentum behind WARF.
“WARF didn’t exist five years ago. This is life-changing for our town,” Tartell said.