After hearing testimony of unsafe conditions, and the mention of unequal facilities between Berlin High School boys and girls teams at its previous meeting, the Town Council decided to fund a study on renovating the softball field at Sage Park.
Around 10 teams that require lighting for night games play at the field, Sage 1, far beyond what was intended for a field meant to be used just for softball. Jen Ochoa, director of Social and Youth Services, said it has led to the grass degrading and the soil becoming uneven, which players and coaches said could constitute a hazard for outfielders.
Parks and Grounds Foreman Steve Wood and Ochoa presented the council with two options to alleviate the field’s deterioration. The cheapest would be to simply resod the grass and install new infill in the infield for around $556,000. A more permanent solution would be to replace the grass and infill with artificial turf, which comes with a higher price tag — nearly $1.4 million — but allows a significantly greater amount of play without being damaged.
Parks and Recreation Commission Chairperson Donna Bovee said if the field were to be resoded without making it exclusive to the softball team, the field would quickly degrade again and the department would have to return to the council within a few years to replace it again.
“My opinion is with sod, we're going to be back here looking for a few hundred thousand dollars every few years just to keep it going and it's really not going to be a good field to play on, just like we have now," she said.
Both plans would also do around $335,500 of work — included in the estimates — to bring Sage 1 to a comparable standard as Zipadelli Field, where the BHS baseball team plays. A concrete building would be constructed with bathrooms and storage space, upgraded lighting installed and the backstop replaced with a larger fence and safety net to prevent balls from flying into the woods.
Softball player Stephanie Poulin told the council there’s a stark contrast between the two ball fields, which lie less than 500 feet apart at Sage Park.
“As a player, I feel highly disappointed when it comes to the status of our field at Sage. As an upperclassman, I’ve been here for three years and I have seen no improvements on the fields — at our field — but have seen numerous improvements on all the other fields at Sage,” she said during the Oct. 15 council meeting. “If you know anything about our team, you’d know our girls work just as hard as any other team at Sage and it’s really frustrating to walk on our softball fields and know that we have no support.”
Deputy Mayor Brenden Luddy said the council doesn’t prioritize fields to benefit a particular team and focused on safety when considering which facilities needed overhauls.
"There was no talk ever in the past of prioritizing one field over another because it was a football team or this team or that team. It didn't happen," he said.
The council allocated $9,500 for Kaestle Boos Associates to study the options for Sage 1, however expressed interest in possibly expanding the scope of the assessment to include installing artificial turf and outdoor lighting at the Berlin High School field instead. All teams now playing at Sage 1, except, softball would be moved to BHS and the field would be resodded and renovated.
Ochoa said the plan would cost around $1.8 million at the high school, plus the $556,000 at Sage 1.
Councilor Alex Giannone said he was partial to spending more now to make sure the problem is solved once-and-for-all.
"If you were to turf the softball field, and it's not adequate enough to fit the parameters of the size of the sports that are going to be there anyways, it might be worth it to consider doing what we need once, getting it done — doing it right, if it's a little bit more money,” he said.