The Board of Selectmen unanimously decided that the Small Town Economic Assistance (STEAP) grant awarded for the construction of an artificial turf field in town would not be transferred to the Region 9 Board of Education to help offset costs of the approved stadium field project at Joel Barlow High School.
The Park and Recreation Commission had recommended to the board in September that the town transfer the STEAP grant. First Selectman Natalie Ketcham had tabled the decision until after the referendum on the stadium field project.
On Monday, Sept. 21, Joe Dolan, the Board of Finance member who oversees the town’s field committee, said he disagrees with the transfer of all or some of the grant.
The town’s original $400,000 STEAP grant was slated for a field conversion to a multipurpose artificial turf field at the Redding Community Center. But in October 2011, taxpayers turned down a proposal to appropriate up to $500,000 from the town to get the project off the ground. At that time, there was $350,000 of the STEAP grant remaining, since $50,000 had been used to get the project going. The STEAP grant was intended to help offset the total cost of the field conversion project.
Mr. Dolan said there is still a need in the town for an artificial turf field to be used by youth groups and adults. He also said there is a possible use of the STEAP grant money to improve the baseball field at John Read Middle School.
Currently, youth athletes at the Redding Easton Boys & Girls Club are traveling to Bridgeport to use some fields there in addition to the fields already in town.
Mr. Dolan said he thinks the town owes it to the residents to try again to get the field conversion approved at the Redding Community Center. He said that re-selling the project at the Community Center might have been a distraction to the Barlow stadium project. But now that the project passed and is under way, Mr. Dolan said, people are expressing interest in the Community Center field.
“I think we can safely go forward and raise private dollars,” he said. But the taxpayers would also like to see the town contribute in some way, he said.
“I want to and am ready to move forward. I spoke with Clark Companies to look at the field for a hard estimate,” said Mr. Dolan. Clark Companies is currently doing the field work at Barlow.
He said the town already has a full, approved plan but no hard number.
Selectman Donald Takacs said the last estimate that was received was around $950,000. Mr. Takacs was head of the Athletic Field Committee before it disbanded last year.
Mr. Dolan thinks the estimate could be less now. So with a lower estimate, $350,000 from the grant and commitment from several athletic groups, Mr. Dolan said, there is a standing agreement with Bill Alvarez, Board of Finance chair, that they can raise funds when the time is right.
Mr. Dolan also said that he felt the reason the Community Center field conversion didn’t pass before was because people felt Barlow’s stadium was more important.
“Well, now that passed,” he said.
The town has also received an extension on the grant and has until July 7, 2015, to spend it.
“I think the field stands on its own merit. We have to start to complete the field at RCC to accommodate all athletes. If we make changes on that field, it would improve the drainage on field one and two,” said Mr. Takacs.
He said that having an athletic turf field for youth and adult programs would attract youthful families with children to town.
“I think there is a need for an additional turf field. We have money from the state and it behooves us to move forward,” said Selectman Julia Pemberton.
She said if Mr. Dolan received a concrete estimate, then it gives more flexibility and she would like to help raise funds.
Mr. Dolan also said he talked with one of the Clark Companies associates and was told the company has a program that if the town commits to a field project with it by April, it will give the town a $50,000 discount.
Ms. Ketcham said she agrees with both selectmen and that there is still a need and use in town for an artificial turf field.
“I think we should hold on to it [the grant] and use it for that purpose,” said Ms. Ketcham. “Put the money to good use in Redding.”