Fielding questions on maintenance
GREENWICH — A 20-year-old agreement assigned the job of maintaining Greenwich’s school buildings, grounds and fields to the Department of Parks and Recreation. But Board of Education members are now eager to change that.
“This document needs vast overhauling,” school board Secretary Barbara O’Neill said at a Board of Education meeting last week. “The fields are in terrible shape, and we need to figure out a better system of upkeep, renewal and improvement.”
And as criticism has mounted over the condition of the fields, they have never been more popular: Demand from sports groups to use the town’s field has doubled in the past two decades, Director of Parks and Recreation Joe Siciliano said.
“As far as I can tell, the board has never revisited this to see how it’s working,” school board Chair Peter Bernstein said of the maintenance agreement. “I thought it was worthy of a discussion, and probably an overhaul, because the condition of some of our fields, especially at the elementary school, is the subject of a lot of discussion.”
Bernstein directed Interim School Superintendent Ralph Mayo to address their concerns — ranging from rental fees to levels of maintenance — and, in time, sit down with Parks and Recreation and “hammer out how to go forward.”
Parks and Recreation maintains all fields on school properties, which students use during the day, and Greenwich Public Schools get priority for use of the fields after school. The department rents the fields at Cos Cob School and Greenwich High School to town nonprofits and local recreation leagues for community sports. It also maintains playgrounds and buildings.
The school board used to have its own Grounds Maintenance staff, but in 1998, the Board of Estimate and Taxation recommended that the BOE consolidate its personnel with those of the departments of Parks and Recreation and Public Works, Siciliano said.
Two concerns motivated the decision: the poor state of the fields at that time, due to overuse and misuse, as well as a practice of busying maintenance staff with necessary but non-maintenance tasks, according to the original document.
At meeting, Mayo agreed with Bernstein that the town should be taking better care of the fields.
“I’d like to see us review this document and see if we can get a better deal from Parks and Recreation,” he said.
Area schools also make use of town-operated fields. Greenwich High School and Western Middle School students use the turf at Cos Cob Park for $30 an hour, according to a 2017 agreement.
Siciliano said demand has doubled since the merger. The number of groups requesting field time for sports and other events has grown, and far outpaced an increase in turf surfaces that can withstand high use, he said.
But Siciliano disagreed with board members over the condition of the fields.
“In my view, the fields are in better condition than they were 20 years ago, there’s no doubt in my mind,” he said.
There may be room for improvement when it comes to maintenance, but the underlying problem is still a shortage of available fields, board member Kathleen Stowe said.
“It’ll come down to the fact that we don’t have enough fields,” she said, echoing Siciliano.
The board wants snow removal processes to be reviewed as well. The Department of Public Works is charged with removing snow from sidewalks and parking lots.
In his 20 years with the Department of Public Works, Business Service Manager William McCormick said he has not seen any problems clearing school properties promptly after a snowstorm.
“It’s always good to periodically take stock and see if there’s something that can be tweaked,” McCormick said.