A recent vote by city aldermen to approve a partnership with Trinity High School and replace the lower athletic field at Derryfield Park with a new, lighted synthetic turf field drew criticism from some school board members last week.
As Trinity Principal Steve Gadecki points out in a letter to city officials, the school has used city-owned fields for all of its outdoor sports for many years, predominantly the Al Lemire baseball field and Derryfield Park softball fields abutting Reservoir Avenue and Circular Drive.
In 2009, Trinity partnered with the city to renovate the outfield at Al Lemire Field, which was heavily damaged. As part of that 2009 agreement, Trinity contributed $40,000 of the $80,000 renovation costs and has been paying $5,000 annually for maintenance in exchange for priority use of Lemire and the other Derryfield Park fields.
The fields at Derryfield Park are natural grass and often unavailable until early spring, after the winter snowfall melts. The baseball and softball fields at the site do not have lights.
Under the agreement, Trinity will have a long-term arrangement with the city allowing the school to replace with synthetic turf the area encompassing the two softball fields adjacent to the tennis courts at Derryfield Park and install lights on the field to extend use of the site after dark.
The first part of the two-phase project would kick off this year with the addition of bleachers, lighting, fencing and a turf field for $2.7 million. The second phase will include a building for showers, locker rooms and a concession stand at a cost of $1.5 million.
Under the terms of the deal, Trinity is responsible for 60 percent of the costs, scheduling maintenance and repairs and managing the field. The agreement also calls for a $50,000 annual capital reserve fund to be established for future maintenance after five years, split in the same 60/40 manner between the city and Trinity.
City aldermen passed the agreement with one dissenting vote — Ward 5’s Tony Sapienza.
“It’s going to cost us over $120,000 a year to enter into this agreement and after five years it’s going to cost $140,000 because of the money going to the capital reserve fund,” Sapienza said. “I’m all for fixing up ball fields, but we have budget season coming up, and I think this ought to at least be delayed until budget season, when the money can be identified in the budget. We just put $2 million into Gill Stadium for ball fields so how much money are we going to put into ball fields? I like ball fields, but we have competing priorities in this city for that million dollars.”
Alderman At Large Joe Kelly Levasseur supported the deal.
“Alderman 5 voted to spend $3 million for a hotel down on Bedford lot (for) which the developer only has to pay back half, and he didn’t vote for it to pay back interest until we got a new vote on that. Trinity High School is going to fix up something that needs to be fixed up. They’re going to pay back 60 percent and they’ll be paying a maintenance fee on that. A good percentage of children who go there are Manchester residents. They save us a fortune by having students go to that school that pay $13,000 a year for tuition and do not cost the city of Manchester $11,000 a year for them to be in our schools. It’s a good public-private partnership.”
Last week, some school board members expressed displeasure with the vote.
“For the life of me I can’t understand why the aldermen agreed to a 60/40 split on that,” Ward 4’s Leslie Want said. “So we lose control of that property. It’s a city park. It makes no sense to me at all. There are plenty of times when the federal government shortchanges us and the state downshifting costs. ... This is Manchester cheating Manchester.”
Want went on to say she wasn’t happy with the way the agreement was handled.
“There were a lot of questions being asked and not a lot of answers being given, yet it still went through,” Want said. “I just feel like our aldermen kinda let our students down, and I’m hoping that when it comes time for the budget that they don’t let our students down then.”
School board Vice Chair Art Beaudry of Ward 9 agreed with Want.
“I watched that meeting in awe,” Beaudry said. “Two and a half million the city’s going to put up for that field, when we were shortchanged $750,000 in this year’s budget request for our district. We have projects in our own city, our own district that are not being funded, but we’re going to fund a private school?”
Beaudry wondered how the division of church and state factors into the agreement.
“How do you spend money on a diocese?” Beaudry said. “I have to applaud Alderman Sapienza; he was the lone vote against it. I would hope the aldermen would look at that again.”
Mayor Joyce Craig said the rights for the field already belong to Trinity.
“Trinity had the rights to the field that they are making enhancements to,” Craig said. “Just to clarify, the funding for this field is a bond that couldn’t have been used to fill the gap for education.”
At-large school board member Rich Girard said at the end of the day, the decision to enter into such an agreement falls within the purview of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, not the school board.
“I think there are a lot of moving parts here,” Girard said. “We would do well to let the aldermen handle what is their business to handle, and maybe they’ll leave us alone to handle the business we’re supposed to handle.”
Aldermen are still expected to renew talks this week on a proposal from Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines to allow downtown business owners to control the use of the sidewalks outside their storefronts year-round, but a compromise may have already been reached.
Baines believes an ordinance change could help business owners dealing with concerns raised by customers over the number of homeless outside businesses.
Encumbrance permits are issued to businesses between April 1 and Oct. 15 to control the use of sidewalk space outside their businesses, as needed. Baines is looking to have the date restrictions removed, saying the change would allow business owners to maintain control of the immediate area outside their doors.
But last week City Clerk Matt Normand sent aldermen an email notifying them of conversations he and his staff have had with 55 downtown business owners who hold encumbrance permits about allowing them to continue to use the sidewalks without penalty, any increase in fee or any written changes.
“We explained to each (business owner) that we are allowing them to extend the dates of their encumbrance permits beyond what is outlined in the ordinance (April 1 – Oct. 15); that they were responsible to remove any obstructions during a winter weather event; and that they must maintain their insurance covering their activities on the sidewalk,” Normand wrote in his email. “ Everyone was very positive and thankful to the city for allowing them to take advantage of sporadic warm weather days during the winter.”
“Staff was prepared to listen to complaints about homeless activities on the sidewalk, but it never became a topic of conversation during these visits last week,” Normand said.
City Parks Director Don Pinard reports that the search for a new golf pro at Derryfield Country Club is well underway, following the death of longtime pro Mike Ryan last November.
Thirteen applications for the post were received and Pinard reports staff are in the process of analyzing the credentials of those interested in the job. Interviews are being held, and Pinard hopes to name the club’s new pro at the beginning of March.