Two New Fields To Be Built At Crystal Lake School
A Feb. 14 referendum on a proposed school building project in Ellington may impact the landscape of youth sports in town as well. Aside from the construction aspects of this proposal to upgrade facilities mainly at an old school, some much needed space for athletic fields and a new gymnasium represent other far-reaching aspects of the proposal.
The growth and increased population that Ellington has experienced over the past decade has put a strain on the town’s facilities – specifically athletic fields and gyms.
A plan, approved by the finance board and board of selectmen in January, is in place to add two new playing fields as part of the Crystal Lake School expansion project. The proposed renovations have reached the Feb. 14 referendum. If town voters support the project, construction would begin in September 2013 and finish by September 2015. Work on the Crystal Lake School gym would be over by then as well.
Regardless of their sport, the one unifying factor among town athletes has been the struggle to find enough available and adequate fields. This plan, devised by a school board subcommittee, appears to meet many of the needs of the town.
“In general, the proposal to create upgraded athletic facilities at the Crystal Lake School will enhance opportunities for all of the town’s residents, school children right through adults,” Ellington Recreation director Robert Tedford said.
The overuse and overcrowding of the fields for a prolonged period has added to maintenance considerations as well. Many fields in town are beginning to show signs of wear and tear. New fields would alleviate the strain.
“The Department of Public Works continues to make an extended effort to maintain the current facilities, however, we need additional facilities in order to maintain – both short and long term – safe and well-groomed athletic fields,” Tedford said.
At some point, though, prolonged use of the existing fields without a rotation ensuring evenly distributed usage would lead to deterioration and ultimately replacement. So that would add costs to the town and its taxpayers.
Superintendent of schools Stephen Cullinan is a proponent of the proposal. Currently, none of the town’s soccer fields are located in the part of town near Crystal Lake. Should the plan pass, half of Ellington would no longer be forced to drive across town.
“Seating would be added to the gym at the school,” Cullinan said. “It wouldn’t help our [physical education] classes but having seating there would be a benefit.”
Although the benefits are obvious, passage of the referendum is not assured because of the cost. Plus, voters are being asked to approve a more expansive Senior recreation center at the same time. With the specter of an increase in taxes needed to support both projects, some cost-conscious citizens may be in favor or one project but not the other.
The plan, which also includes smaller-scale renovations to Windermere Elementary School, is estimated to cost $20.6 million, mainly in construction, though the state would reimburse the town $10.5 million. More than 7 acres of land near the school would have to be purchased as well.
Cullinan said parking, with access to South Road, would accompany the fields to be built near wetlands on the lot adjacent to the school. There would be additional space for another 96 cars, and that could be enough new parking. Yet that will depend on how they will be used. And need could be the deciding factor there.
“All facilities should have an agreed-upon rotation-of-fields plan in place,” Tedford said. “Although Ellington has a plan that officials would like to implement, we have had to mix-and-match and use some fields more than others due to the demand of the programs.”
The town currently has nine soccer fields for more than 1,000 people who play the sport. Cullinan said there’s a strong chance one or both of the new fields could be dedicated to soccer. One could be multi-purpose, perhaps a home to baseball and softball, as well as for soccer.
But Cullinan and Tedford understand if the plan is approved, then the best deployment of sports for the new fields would be studied first before any decisions would be made.
When officials evaluate how the fields would be set up, they would consider the usage today. Aside from soccer, 140 youngsters play lacrosse on four fields; 250 residents play softball on five fields; 350 school-aged residents play baseball on six fields; 150 football players use two fields for games and one for practice. In the gyms, 615 basketball players use the courts. Tedford said the Crystal Lake School gym is in use Mondays through Fridays, from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., except during the summer.