Whalley Park responsibilities discussed

SOUTHWICK – A working session aimed at hammering out more details about Whalley Park took place yesterday, with a dozen members of various boards in attendance.
Russell Fox represented the Board of Selectmen, while Kelly Magni, Michelle Ackerman and Daniel Call represented the Parks and Recreation Commission, Steve Presnal and Eric Morgan attended on behalf of the school department, Kirk Sanders represented the Recreation Center, Department of Public Works Director Jeffrey Neece was in attendance, as were Robert Horacek and Tom Witham from the Finance Committee. Chief Administrative Officer Karl Stinehart was also present, along with John and Kathy Whalley.
The 70-acre park, which includes 35 acres of recreational fields and 35 acres of woods and wetlands, could be turned over to the town if voters approve using just over $1 million in Community Preservation funds to finish the park, which was donated by the Whalleys for use by the town and Recreation Center.
Before the vote, town officials are working with the Whalleys to nail down details, such as maintenance costs and potential revenue.
Mowing the fields is one of the biggest concerns of maintenance. Magni said he verbally sought estimates from several companies for mowing and
weed whacking.
“I was looking at 24 mows and got estimates ranging from $800-$1,200 per mowing,” he said. “Then we started looking at two part-time employees at 18 hours per week and $12-$15 an hour.”
Fox asked if, in addition to mowing, cleaning bathrooms and security were considered.
Magni said they are looking into security cameras, which is not currently included in the list of remaining items to complete at the park.
“If we have two guys working 18 hours a week each, there would be ample time for cleaning the bathrooms and doing fields,” Magni said.
Whalley was asked if there have been any issues with vandalism and graffiti at the park.
“We’ve had no problems whatsoever,” he said.
Morgan, who is in charge of maintenance for Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional schools, said the chance for vandalism is low while the park remains under construction.
“The graffiti and all of that will come once you start using the fields and there are hundreds of kids there,” said Morgan. “That’s when you’ll get the vandalism.”
Morgan was asked about the school fields and what work was involved in maintaining fields of comparable size to Whalley Park. Morgan said there is work almost year-round.
“In early fall they have to be aerated and overseeded,” he said. “There’s a lot of little things – in the baseball fields you have to replace the dirt, backstops need to be replaced, bathrooms will have to be cleaned every day. Once you put the fence up, that becomes an issue with mowing.”
Morgan said the school department maintains 28 acres of fields. There are two employees charged with maintaining the fields and costs include $4,600 for fertilizer application in spring, $4,000 for fall fertilizer, and $600 on seed.
Fox brought up the issue of equipment and wondered if the DPW mowers could handle the fields. Neece said no.
“The mowers I have are not made to take care of turf,” said Neece. “They would chew up a field.”
The DPW’s two mowers are capable of cutting through brush and tree branches.
Fox asked if the school department could assist with some maintenance.
“That’s something we can explore,” said Presnal, school business manager.
Morgan said it could be a time problem.
“We would want to, but when all these things need to be done, we don’t have enough people,” Morgan said.
Other discussion included field lighting responsibilities, management of fields, and more.
The Finance Committee and Parks and Recreation Commission agreed to meet to further discuss the responsibility of the DPW, contracting services, or a combination of responsibilities.

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