2005-10-13 / Front Page

Who’s in charge of the island’s ball fields?

By Donna K. Drago

Who’s in charge of the island’s ball fields?

At an Oct. 6 joint workshop of the School Committee and Town Council, the officials heard concerns from parents and each other about the oversight and maintenance of the schools’ ball fields.

Parent Anthony Rafanelli, a volunteer with the town’s baseball league, addressed the combined group at the public forum that dealt with proposed collaboration between the town and school.

Rafanelli said that his group would like to oversee the care of the fields used by the major league, softball league and the schools’ middle school league, but over the years it has been consistently unclear “who has ownership” of the athletic fields.

“Who do we go to when we have capital needs?” Rafanelli asked the group, noting that for some things he has asked permission of the School Committee and for others he has asked the town recreation department.

Rafanelli outlined some his concerns about the condition of the fields, which he described as “dangerous.” The league has had to turn down the chance to host state tournaments because of the field issues, he said.

School Committee member James Filkins asked Rafanelli to explain just what is dangerous about the fields.

There had been a lot of erosion of the soils, “divots and rocks” were present in the infield, and “kids have been hit” by balls ricocheting off the rocks when they are hit into the infield, Rafanelli said.

“These are liability issues we and our insurance company don’t want to have to deal with,” he said.

Town Recreation Director Matt Bolles told the officials that because he only has one full-time maintenance person on staff year round, it was “simply not possible” to do earlier preparation of the ball fields for the spring opener because “it causes us to fall behind in other areas, most notably Fort Getty.” His crew always prepared the fields in late April or early May, but the recent school request was to have them ready in late March or early April, he said.

“I am requesting that the School Department allocate some of its considerable maintenance force” to prepare the fields as requested, Bolles said.

“This is consistent with what school departments everywhere must do for spring teams,” he added.

Chris Crawford, another parent there with Rafanelli, said that the parent group was “willing to renovate” the fields to their specifications, but he reiterated, “Who do we go to for direction and implementation of the plan?”

“We want to sit down” with town and school officials “and drive this project through,” Crawford said.

Rafanelli noted that because of issues with traveling teams and being able to commit to tournaments, they would have to have something accomplished no later than January.

School Superintendent Kathy Sipala said that she wanted to see something happen with the ball field maintenance issue, “but my job is education,” she said.

William “Bucky” Brennan, who is the school board’s liaison to its Facilities Committee, had brought the issue of recreation fields’ maintenance up to the School Committee before the joint session.

He said that the fields “showed a general pattern of neglect,” and he asked the school board and council to come up with a plan to address the issues.

Brennan said that he was not sure who was responsible for maintenance issues, but the “job should go along with the deed” to the property.

A group of stakeholders was formed to include two representatives each from the council and school board along with the recreation department and the athletic leagues. Headed up by Councilman Bill Kelly, the group was scheduled to meet for the first time last night.

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