New city ball fields on Orange Avenue nearly complete

Construction of new $4.5 million ball fields on Orange Avenue is expected to be largely complete by the end of the year:

Last week four precast building modules were being set into place at the site. They will form the concession and restroom building.

“Weather permitting, the project will be substantially completed by the end of the year,” said Recreation Director Paul Piscitelli. “The remaining work will be completed in the spring.”

The project has been a long time coming. The city approved construction of the two new synthetic athletic fields more than two years ago, on city-owned land on Orange Avenue next to the YMCA.

The approximate cost of the project had been pegged at $3.9 million. Some additions raised that to $4.5 million. Park, Beach and Recreation Director Paul Piscitelli said the city bonded for the project and received some state grants as well.

In August of 2015, the Board of Aldermen approved a land swap between the city and YMCA — the last hurdle in a mission to build these new fields.

The city had been eyeing field construction since they bought 3.3 acres of land on Orange Avenue in 2006 for $700,000 from Gary Novelli, who was using the land as an apple orchard.

As the years went on and plans began to take shape, city leaders initially thought they would put one ball field on the YMCA property, and the other on the adjacent city-owned land. But after studying the concept, Milford’s officials learned it wasn’t the best layout. Mayor Ben Blake explained in 2015, when city aldermen were discussing a land swap with the YMCA, that the original plan wasn’t ideal because of the positioning of the fields in relation to the sun. Sometimes the sun would be in the eyes of key players, Blake said. City officials also decided it would be best to have both fields on city-owned property, rather than splitting them between the city and the YMCA.

So next came the land swap, which took a bit of time because of all the entities that had to sign off: 2.7 acres of city land that formed the driveway to the YMCA property was swapped for 2.5 acres of YMCA land bordering the property where the fields are now located.

The city has long been in need of additional fields, and Piscitelli, plus local sports coaches, had been explaining the need for additional fields long before the land swap was approved.

“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,” Piscitelli said in 2014, when he explained the need for new fields to Milford's aldermen. “This has negatively impacted not only the availability of fields but also the quality of fields, which jeopardizes the safety of all players.”

At that time, Piscitelli also pointed out that participation in youth sports had grown exponentially.

The project is being done in cooperation with the YMCA, because the city will still be using an existing athletic field on the YMCA property and will have an agreement for the use of a new walking trail.

A walking and biking trail will surround the fields and loop around the YMCA property. The city and YMCA are working on securing funding for that phase of the project, and there is not yet a timeframe for the completion of that part, Piscitelli said.

Green Acres Landscaping & Construction of Lakeville, Mass., is doing the work on the ball fields,  and the project engineer is BSC Group-Connecticut of Glastonbury.