Aldermen approve YMCA land swap to build 2 athletic turf fields

The Board of Aldermen recently approved a land swap between the city and YMCA so the city can build two athletic turf fields on land entirely owned by the city.

The Planning and Zoning Board unanimously supported the land swap with the Woodruff Family YMCA in July, before forwarding the recommendation to the aldermen.

The aldermen’s stamp of approval means the two multi-purpose athletic turf fields can be built on the land just south of the YMCA property at 631 Orange Avenue.

With the intent of constructing ball fields, the city purchased the 3.3 acres of land at 605 Orange Avenue on Dec. 29, 2006 for $700,000 from Gary Novelli, who had been using the land as an apple orchard. That land is backed by an additional 5.7 acres of land between Gibson Street and Julia Court.

City Attorney Jonathan D. Berchem told the Planning and Zoning Board last month that the ideal design of these fields encroaches on the YMCA property. Berchem said 2.7 acres of city land that form the driveway to the YMCA property will be swapped for 2.5 acres of YMCA land bordering the property where the fields will be constructed.

Expressing support for the design when speaking to the Planning and Zoning Board in July, City Planner David B. Sulkis said he worked with Paul Piscitelli, city director of recreation, and YMCA representatives on plans for workable fields.

Mayor Ben Blake told the aldermen this month that a lot of work has been done to move the turf field project forward. It is in the design phase now: One more YMCA board has to approve the swap so the fields can be constructed in the spring. Piscitelli said the YMCA Board of Governors — the last group needed to approve the swap — is scheduled to meet Aug. 19.

Board of Aldermen Minority Leader Anthony Giannattasio was somewhat critical, saying the city bonded for the project two years ago and asked why it’s taking so long to build the fields. “These fields should already have been installed,” he said.

But Blake said the project has not been on the back burner “by any stretch of the imagination.”

In February of 2014, Milford’s aldermen voted to borrow $3.3 million to build two full-size synthetic athletic fields at the YMCA, but at that time the plan called for building one of the fields on YMCA property.

Blake explained that the original plan wasn’t idea because of the positioning of the fields in relation to the sun. Sometimes the sun would be in the eyes of key players, he said. Piscitelli added that city officials also decided it would be best to have both field on city-owned property, rather than splitting them between the city and the YMCA. Deciding on a land swap to allow that added to technicality of the project, Piscitelli said.

Piscitelli has explained the need for the fields at meetings over the past year and half. He said recreation youth sports in Milford have changed dramatically in the past five years.

“One of the most dramatic changes is that individual sports — football, baseball, soccer, lacrosse — are played year-round rather than being played only during their traditional seasons. This has negatively impacted not only the availability of fields but also the quality of fields, which jeopardizes the safety of all players,” Piscitelli said.

Industry standards suggest that to maintain a quality natural grass recreation field, the field should be scheduled for only 15 to 20 hours of use per week, Piscitelli said. The field should be “rested” for a full season, and the average cost spent on maintenance should be approximately $20,000 per year to irrigate, top dress, seed, and fertilize each field.

“Currently the average field in Milford is scheduled 25 to 30 hours per week, only dormant during the winter, and the total budget for maintenance on all city grass fields is well below $20,000,” Piscitelli said.

In addition, participation in youth sports has grown at an incredible rate, he said.

When funding was approved last year, many coaches turned out to speak about the need for the fields, especially in terms of alleviating conflicts when it comes to scheduling field time.

Andrew Carlson, a coach, pediatrician, and school medical advisor with the city’s health department, also spoke in favor of the turf fields at that time, saying they have come a long way in the past years. Once thought to be inferior to natural grass, the turf is now better. Carlson said youngsters suffer fewer ligament injuries playing on the artificial turf than on the grassy fields.

Piscitelli said the city is working to acquire a machine that top dresses the fields with rubber pellets and sand, something typically done once a year.

“This will be a great opportunity to have state-of-the-art fields and give the Public Works Department a chance to fix other fields,” Piscitell said.

There are two fields now at the YMCA. One will remain and the smaller one will become a grassy common area.

Alderman Dora Kubek asked about the safety of the fields, citing controversy about whether materials used on the fields cause cancer.

Piscitelli said the fields will be the latest in terms of technology, and cited studies that say the materials used on turf fields have no adverse health effects.

Each new field will be 210 feet by 360 feet. Piscitelli expects that if the final YMCA land swap approval goes smoothly, the fields can be built and ready at this time next year.

A walking and biking trail will surround the fields and loop around the YMCA property.