By Paul Augeri, Editor-In-Chief
Officially, the ongoing work on the expanse of athletic fields between Farm Hill Road and Hunting Hill Avenue is being called a renovation. Maybe a “reimagining” is a more apt description for it.
However you put it, the Pat Kidney/Woodrow Wilson complex is shaping up as a modern recreational magnet that has been long sought for Middletown.
With construction now in its fifth month, the rash of dry summer weather has allowed for a steady transformation of every corner of the property. The change is made possible by voters’ approval in 2015 of a $33.5 million bond calling for the renovation of parks throughout the city over a period of 8 to 10 years.
On Thursday, Mountain View Landscapes and Lawncare of Chicopee, Mass., rolled out sod at Ed Collins Field on Hunting Hill. The multi-use field will be used primarily by Wilson Middle School teams and youth football. The former Miller-Fillback site hosted decades’ worth of Woodrow Wilson High School and Middletown High School football games.
“Progress has been pretty good,” said Chris Holden, who has overseen the work as deputy director of the city’s Public Works division. “This is going to be a great park.
“Over the winter (Mountain View) may be able to do some of the other work. As long as it’s a fairly seasonable winter, they can work on things. We wanted to do the sodding before the end of the year to give it a chance to tie in to the ground over the winter.”
The city earmarked $10 million to the project, but Gene Nocera, who chairs the city’s 21st Century Parks Committee, said total expenditures will finish at about $7.7 million. Mountain View’s efficient and urgent approach to the work, which Nocera called “first rate,” has made this possible.
“Mountain View – I can’t say enough about them. They work on Saturdays. Time is money and they don’t want to sit around,” Nocera said. “The change orders have been minimal, which has been huge. We’ll be well under the amount allocated for the project.”
The project was designed by Milone & MacBroom of Cheshire (rendering above). It will keep the Pat Kidney Field name out of respect to its past, Nocera said, but the fields and courts themselves will carry the names of a diverse array of accomplished figures in the community after approval by the Common Council last month.
The latest on where construction stands:
• Baseball and softball — tentative completion in May. Each field will occupy its previous space, although the baseball field will be shifted slightly to the east to accommodate space for the exercise trail and a children’s play area. Fourteen towers with focus lighting surround the entire space (the old light stands for softball eventually will be removed). Focus lighting keeps the brightness of the light trained on the field. “Neighbors won’t have to see spillage outside the fields,” Nocera said. “It’s state of the art.”
There will be batting cages erected on the baseball side of the field. A gravel base has been prepared for what will be a fairly large, off-street parking area parallel to Farm Hill Road. According to the design, the baseball field’s outfield fence is removable to allow for the option of an overlay field to be utilized out of season.
The baseball field will be named for the late Jerome “Buzzy” Levin, a respected businessman who helped found Middletown’s Little League chapter, sponsored a team in the Greater Hartford Twilight League for years and was behind the creation of the New England Collegiate Baseball League in the 1990s. The softball field will be named for Lucille Gecewicz, a three-sport star at Central Connecticut State in the 1970s and the first woman inducted in the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame.
Since construction began in June, tons and tons of topsoil have been moved to ready a vast irrigation system. After Mountainview peeled off the initial layers of soil, the ground was down to hard clay and silt, Holden said. Drainage systems were dropped in and new soil filled around them, and a water-quality swale has been dug along the third-base side of the softball diamond to help with run-off. On Farm Hill Road at Norfolk Street, the drainage system was tied into the city’s water/sewer system, he said.
• Multi-use stadium – complete. Four light towers were assembled and installed late this summer, as were a full set of bleachers and a press box. Both mirror the previous layout at Miller-Fillback Field. A concessions stand and bathroom facility, plus a patio, will be built in the same area where the previous one stood. Underground power has been installed. The field will continue to carry Ed Collins’ name. He coached football at Woodrow Wilson High and was part of the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame’s second class in 1995.
• Basketball courts – tentative completion in May. Three asphalt courts will be prepared in the spring at the corner of Farm Hill Road and Russell Street. No lights. The courts will be named for both Detroit Hunter and Cleveland “Cleve” Lowman. Hunter was a longtime city worker and Middletown’s recreation director, and championed the inclusion of minority children in city sports and recreation programs. Lowman started a community recreation center in the North End in the 1970s.
• Track and field – tentative completion in December. The track will be a rubberized surface. An area behind the bleachers will be developed for field events. The track will be named for Deb Petruzzello, who retired after 40 years of coaching the sport in town. She was selected as National Coach of the Year in 2016 and is still working as athletic director at Woodrow Wilson Junior High.
• Exercise trail – tentative completion in May. A loop for walking and jogging will encircle the entire property, with entry points at Russell Street, Farm Hill Road and Hunting Hill, and will be accessible according to guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The asphalt surface will be laid in the spring.
• Tennis courts – tentative completion in July. There will be six (without lights) in the area of the old football practice field off of Newtown Street. The base layer for the courts will be prepared before the end of this year and concrete will be poured in the spring. A small parking area will adorn the area. The courts will be named for Hal Kaplan, a tennis enthusiast who was a longtime teacher and principal. His name also adorns the road leading to Lawrence School.
• Planting: The city is studying species of trees for the complex, Holden said. Dozens will be planted in areas including the south end of the multi-use field, the east side of the tennis courts, into the hillside that separates the Pat Kidney complex from the Woodrow Wilson Apartments, and along Russell Street. Trees will go into the ground in the spring.
• Children’s mini play area – tentative completion in July. It will be donated through assistance from the Kiwanis Club.
Copies of the project’s design will be posted at the site soon.