Solicitor asked for ruling on ball fields
Leaders of a group of parents whose kids are baseball and soccer players told the Town Council Monday night that they would raise enough money to make major repairs to the ball fields at the Jamestown School if they can find out what town entity is accountable for the fields.
The spokesmen said the parents would raise the money and do the much-needed maintenance work if the council identifies the appropriate authority, and if the fund-raising is authorized.
The spokesmen also asked the town to provide and clearly identify maintenance funds in the annual budget once the fields are fixed. They also want to install fund-raising banners at the ball fields for at least two months.
The council immediately assigned Town Solicitor Lauriston Parks to give them a ruling on what agency has authority. They agreed by consensus that the council would authorize fundraising if it has the authority. They also said that they would consider field maintenance funds as part of the annual budgeting process.
In addition, the council members told the parents and their children that the Zoning Board of Review has authority over signs and banners and the council could not intercede on zoning matters. They noted that council permission is not needed to seek approval for signs or banners.
Julie Kallfelz, vice chairwoman of the School Committee, which has some authority over the ball fields at the schoolyard between Melrose and Lawn avenues, told the council that the School Committee by consensus at its Oct. 20 meeting said that it is “eager and willing to help” clarify how to provide for upkeep of the ball fields at the schools. “We are eager to help and to work together for solutions acceptable to all,” Kallfelz said.
The three ball fields in the schoolyard have a number of names, including the Major League, Softball, Melrose, and Middle School fields, the parents noted. They pointed out that backstops are needed at the the Babe Ruth field. The parents are also concerned about the soccer fields located at old Eldred Avenue.
Past low priority
Council President David Long admitted that the town recreation department, which uses the fields, is usually given low priority in the annual budget process and does not have the funds to maintain or fix any of the the ball fields.
The parents of kids who play baseball or soccer have usually provided some maintenance every season, but this year they discovered that several major cost items are needed, including new fencing, scoreboards, and extensive landscaping.
The leaders of the group of parents said they have a pledge of help from the University of Rhode Island for student landscaping services if the authority matter can be resolved. They said they can also apply for grants and other funds if the ownership and authority issues are resolved.
The group of parents have been meeting and planning for at least nine months, the leaders said. Their work and issues came into the public arena in recent weeks, in part because the Town Council and School Committee discussed at a workshop early this month who had responsibility for the fields.
For a long time, the Jamestown School has charged the town fees for the use of its gymnasiums and playing fields by the recreation department. Under this arrangement, the school was expected to provide maintenance, but the extent and quality of that maintenance has been questioned. The School Committee suggested that it would eliminate the fees if the town takes on maintenance of the school’s athletic facilities.
Councilman William Kelly, liaison to the School Committee, volunteered to help the parents bring their concerns through town government channels.
Primary parent leaders are Anthony J. Rafanelli, president of the Jamestown Baseball Association, and Chris Crawford, representing parents of youth soccer teams, who call themselves the Field Improvement Group, organized last February.
Rafanelli and Crawford spoke at the council meeting, which was attended by dozens of parents and team members. The council rearranged its agenda to hear their presentation early in the session, mainly because of the youth attendance.
Rafanelli said his group had prepared a list of short-term field work that is needed for the next spring season, but declined to make the list public when council members said they had not yet received copies. “We will play baseball this spring” with or without town help, Rafanelli said. The parents are also prepared to identify major work needed, once the authority over the property has been established.
He said there has been ongoing confusion about who is in charge. He commended Kelly for taking a leadership role. Councilors William Schnack and Barbara Szepatowski also attended a town council workshop last week and pledged support, it was noted.
Crawford said off-island teams that play here have cited the poor condition of fields and their own concerns about playing here. He said the ball field group talks have included concerns not only for youth, but also the interests of senior citizens who might be able to use appropriate tracks and fields. “We’ve looked at what ways we can contribute” as the parents undertake major private fund-raising for improvements “on a large scale…to have first class recreational facilities,” Crawford told the council.
He said actual work will depend on funds raised. Goals include updating the existing fields for baseball and soccer use, adding lacrosse fields, and possibly adding a skating rink and improving parking.
Parks and Recreation Director Matthew Bolles said both the town and schools “signed on” to grants over the years, pledging to use the fields in perpetuity. He did not comment on any other aspect of the talks about the ball fields this week. Last week, he said his department does not have the funds, and therefore does not have the staff to take care of the fields.
Councilman Julio DiGiando said there had been discussion in the past about the practicality of using ball fields for more than one sport, and he said he wondered if the fields can be extended to serve lacrosse as well as baseball and soccer.
At the parents’ Oct. 12 Town Hall meeting, Roland Vigneault, who operated the Jamestown Baseball League for four years, said, “Every season the fields are in deplorable condition.” He said that holes in the fields and burrs on the metal fences were among unsafe conditions. He reported the concession stand has been vandalized. Its doors have been broken. The restrooms no longer function, and the stand is overrun by vermin, he said.
At that meeting, Kelly said he agreed that the fields are “in terrible condition and (had been) allowed to deteriorate over an extended period of time. The bottom line is these are town assets, and we have to get them fixed.”
Earlier this month, Thomas Tighe, police chief and interim town administrator, and Lewis Kitts, head of maintenance for the school department, were assigned to begin preliminary talks about sharing responsibilities for field and building maintenance.