City will build two new turf fields and a walking/biking trail

Milford’s aldermen voted recently to borrow $3.3 million to build two full-size synthetic athletic fields, one at the YMCA and the other at an adjacent property, something that local sports coaches say is desperately needed in town.

A walking and biking trail will surround the fields and loop around the YMCA property, and that’s a great thing for local runners and young bike riders, as well as senior citizens looking for a safe place to walk, said Nicole Schmidt. Schmidt was one of more than a dozen local athletes to speak at the Feb. 3 meeting of the Board of Aldermen when they voted in favor of building the fields.

“Recreation youth sports in Milford have changed dramatically in the past five years,” explained Recreation Director Paul Piscitelli. “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.”

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. Pop Warner Football has grown from seven teams to 13 teams; boys lacrosse has grown from six to 10 teams; girls lacrosse has grown from three teams to seven teams; and soccer has gone from 45 teams to 59 teams.

The proposal calls for building two multipurpose synthetic turf fields.  Each field will be 210 feet by 360 feet.

One field will be built on the YMCA property and the other field on the adjacent city property. The exact layout is to be determined.

The city is paying for the construction of the fields and will own the field on its property and lease the YMCA field for $1 a year for 30 years.

Currently the city pays $21,296 per year to rent a YMCA field that is being replaced, so savings will be realized, Mayor Ben Blake pointed out, because the city will no longer be paying that.

The project also calls for parking improvements at the YMCA, which YMCA Executive Director Charlie Clifford said will help with efforts to complete the Y’s second floor.

The YMCA will not bear any costs of the construction project, but may be responsible for some maintenance costs associated with the improvements.

“The walking/biking trail will be open to all,” Piscitelli said, adding that non-Y members will not have to pay to use the trail. “The concept of the trail is to provide a safe route for walkers, bike riders and runners of all ages and abilities. The exact route, length and construction materials are still to be determined.”

The proposal includes a concession stand, rest room and storage building.

Shortly there will be a request for design and construction proposals for the project. This will include the re-carpeting of the two high school fields, which are due for improvements. Funding for the school fields is not included in the $3.3 million, but rather the $825,000 earmarked for that work will come out of a separate school improvement bonding package.

City officials hope the project will begin in June when school gets out with the re-carpeting of Jonathan Law, then move on to the fields at the YMCA in the fall, and Foran High School would conclude the project, being re-carpeted in June 2015.

David Hulme, representing Pop Warner Football and the YMCA, said the deal is great for both organizations. The Pop Warner league has grown tremendously over the years, and holding practices at the West Shore Middle School field isn’t adequate. Sometimes it’s “a dust bowl,” Hulme said, and there are many teams trying to schedule practices and games there.

Plus, the fields there aren’t full-sized football fields, added Todd Young, also with Pop Warner, so players don’t really get a sense of the field they will be playing games on. Young said the practice field is only one-third the size of a full-sized football field.

Dennis O’Connor said there are only two fields for Pop Warner games, Law and Foran, and the league has to squeeze in 160 games over three months, after all the high school teams have secured their time slots.

“These new fields will help alleviate scheduling conflicts, and home games help us raise money for our leagues,” he said.

Jennifer Lynch, representing the Milford United Soccer Club, said the club has to schedule 106 practices in a week and 42 games on the weekend and needs more field space.

“The fields in Milford are in high demand,” she said.

Lacrosse is fairly new in Milford, and Sean McGinley said that means the league is playing on fields that no one else wanted to use.

Lacrosse is the fastest growing youth sport in the country and in Milford, McGinley said, adding that it’s not a good idea to have youths playing on dangerous and inadequate fields.

“When it rains at Red Bush Field, we can’t play the next day or two or three days later,” McGinley added.

Andrew Carlson is a coach, a parent and a pediatrician. He spoke in favor of the turf fields, 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 agreed the new fields will solve a lot of problems.

“The construction of these fields will provide a safe, consistent playing surface for our sports leagues,” Piscitelli said. “It will help eliminate overcrowding, overuse, and scheduling issues at our existing facilities, which have not grown, while youth sports participation has almost doubled in the past five years to over 1,100 kids in football, lacrosse and soccer.”