Darien has built lots of them. New Canaan too. And many other Westport-type towns.
They’re not McMansions. They’re not Starbucks. In fact, they’re not even buildings at all.
They are turf athletic fields.
(“Turf fields” are actually artificial — not grass. With new technology, they’ve come a long way from “Astroturf.” They’re even more advanced than just a few years ago.)
Westport lags behind our neighbors in turf fields. We’ve got just 4: Staples football, Jinny Parker (Staples field hockey), Wakeman B at Bedford Middle School (soccer and field hockey) and PJ Romano at Saugatuck Elementary (football and lacrosse).
They’re 10 years old, and will be resurfaced soon.
But a group of Westporters is working to turf 2 fields that — ever since Staples High School was built in 1958 — have been grass: the baseball diamond, and Albie Loeffler soccer field.
It’s a momentous change. But its time has come.
(Full disclosure: As Staples’ boys soccer coach, I’ve been a grass purist all my life. But I’ve changed my tune. Now I’m helping plan the project.)
The two fields — set between the turf football and field hockey fields, behind the school — have a lot going for them. Spectators enjoy great views, from seats on a steep hill. The backdrop of trees behind the fields is beautiful in spring, spectacular in fall. For 6 decades, fans have enjoyed fantastic games played at both sites.
(Including, of course, this great season that the girls soccer team has had. They won again last night — and play Ridgefield on Saturday for the state championship. Go Wreckers!)
But the fields are nearly 60 years old. They don’t drain as well as they should. They are closed far too long after the snow melts, or it rains. Constant use has worn them down.
Turfing the baseball and soccer fields would allow them to be used longer, and more often — and by more groups than access them now. The baseball field could accommodate Little League, and more travel teams. Loeffler Field would be opened up to Westport Soccer Association players who now struggle to find space.
The fields would be showcases for the town. Young athletes would play right at the high school — and begin dreaming of days when they’d wear the Staples “S.”
It’s a great plan. But the cost is $2.2 million. And there is no money for it in either the Board of Education or Parks & Recreation budget.
The project would be privately funded. This won’t be paid for by bake sales. We’d need a capital campaign, and the help of some big-time donors.
Right now, Board of Education policy prohibits naming the fields after a corporation or living individual. We’re exploring ways to change that.
But the most immediate needs are to raise $10,000 for a survey and soil tests before snow falls, and $100,000 for engineering and other plans by March 1. Those funds would also cover the permitting process. If all goes well, construction could start in June. The fields would be ready by fall.
Why now? With the football and field hockey turf fields slated for replacement this summer, we’d have economies of scale. Just as importantly, there would be easier access to the hard-to-reach site than for a stand-alone project in 2019.
A great group of baseball and soccer folks is working on this project. But we’re not professional fundraisers. Anyone interested in helping secure the initial $10,000, the next $100,000 — or who has expertise running a capital campaign to raise $2.2 million — is invited to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We need your help. Let’s talk.
And next year, we’ll invite you to throw out the first pitch, or kick the first ball.