Planning firm says Westerly needs more athletic fields to prevent overuse

Planning firm says Westerly needs more athletic fields to prevent overuse

The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — Three or four additional youth soccer fields and two additional rectangular multipurpose fields are needed to address overuse of existing fields, according to a consultant hired to analyze and evaluate the town’s recreation facilities.

The recommendations are made in the draft of the first volume of a three-volume report being prepared by the BSC Group, a Glastonbury-based land use planning firm that specializes in athletic facility design. The company was hired to develop an athletic facilities master plan and is working closely with the Recreation Board, youth athletics, the School Department, and town officials.

A forum, the third of its kind, will seek additional public input on the facilities for use in the plan. It is scheduled for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Westerly Middle School. The forum will also include a review of an online survey, a discussion of specific recommendations made by BSC Group, and a discussion of master planning challenges such as the installation of synthetic turf or acquisition of additional property to be used for recreation functions.

Ed Haik, Recreation Board chairman, encouraged residents of all ages to attend the forum and contribute their thoughts. “This is not just about youth sports, we want to hear from everyone and plan for all ages,” Haik said. He stressed that the report is a draft.

“We have every intent of continuing to listen to the public and incorporating their views,” Haik said Thursday.

The board hopes to present the final version of the report to the Town Council by mid-November. Eventually, Haik said, town officials should prioritize projects to address safety concerns first. The consultant concludes that conditions at some fields could quickly deteriorate into being unsafe if current maintenance efforts are reduced. The firm also noted poor surfaces and grading at some fields.

Ultimately, Haik said, town officials hope to develop a plan that allows for a strategic approach rather than simply reacting to hazards or other problems.

Additional fields would help reduce overuse of fields at the Gingerella Sports Complex and the quad field at Westerly High School, improve turf quality and allow fields to be rotated out of use for renovations and resting, according to the report.

Renovations to the Gingerella Complex would allow for the construction of additional youth fields there. But no other current facilities, according to BSC Group, have adequate space to allow for development of a full-size rectangular multipurpose field. That leaves the town, in BSC’s view, with two options: acquiring and developing additional land for natural turf fields, or converting some existing fields to synthetic turf in order to gain the additional usage that synthetic turf can provide.

Synthetic turf

According to the report, a synthetic turf field can provide for twice the usage of a natural turf field “with significantly less maintenance costs.” With lighting added, synthetic fields could be the equivalent of close to three natural turf fields in terms of scheduling and usage.

In 2014, voters rejected a proposal to spend $975,000 to install synthetic turf at Augeri Field at Westerly High School.

For comparison purposes, the report said, a new single-field facility requires a minimum of 6 acres of relatively flat land that is close to a road. A larger property is preferred so that multiple fields can be constructed. “This type of land is typically in high demand for other types of development, and has the highest associated cost,” the report says.

According to the report, when the costs associated with developing a new facility are considered — including land procurement, potential demolition, development of driveways, and construction of parking, restrooms, and irrigation systems — “converting facilities to synthetic turf that already have existing infrastructure is more cost effective.”

The report cites the Gingerella complex, the Westerly Youth Football facility on Old Hopkinton Road, and the fields at Westerly High School as the best locations for consideration of synthetic turf because of existing parking, lighting and bleachers.

BSC studied eight recreation facilities: Bradford Preserve, Cimalore Recreation Complex, Craig Field Recreation Complex, Gingerella Sports Complex, Westerly Youth Football Filed, Rotary Park, Westerly Middle School, and Westerly High School.

The second volume of the report will present more specific information on current site conditions, and recommendations for improvements; the third volume will include detailed recommendations and is intended for the administrative staff and town officials in making decisions on planning and funding large-scale improvements.

The report, which is based on site visits and study of the town’s population trends, is intended to serve as a planning document for the next five to 10 years.

The first volume of the report is available at the “Westerly Rec Master Plan” Facebook page.


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