MERIDEN — Two separate projects to improve sports fields and outdoor recreation facilities in the city’s north end are now moving forward.
One of those projects is a roughly $2 million upgrade to the North End Field Little League complex at 234 Britannia St. That facility currently includes fields used by the Jack Barry and Ed Walsh leagues, which combined to form Meriden Little League.
When completed, the North End complex will have two turf fields — a baseball diamond along with a new softball field.
The other project, northwest of the existing fields, will convert a neighboring full-size basketball court into a half-court with the addition of a new playground next to it.
On Monday, city crews began demolishing the structures around the ball fields, including removing their fencing and back stops, explained Chris Bourdon, city director of parks and recreation.
The demolition also calls for the removal of the existing concession stand at the corner of Britannia and Tremont streets. “That’s going to be part of the softball field moving forward,” Bourdon said.
Residents whose properties abut the field received notices from the city regarding the demolition work. That was part of the permit issued to allow the demolition, Bourdon explained.
“We had to send letters as part of the permit. But we have no plans to touch anyone’s private property or buildings,” Bourdon said, acknowledging the notifications may have prompted some confusion among residents.
In October 2021, Meriden Public Schools officials announced the complex would be among a group of athletic fields in the city that would be upgraded with new turf surfaces, through the school district’s American Rescue Plan Act monies.
Officials previously stated the upgrades would require less maintenance than the current field, allowing for consistent playability, especially following inclement weather.
Officials planned to complete the project in 2022. But it did not proceed because responsive bids from contractors for the project exceeded its budget by around $500,000.
Officials said the project scope was revised and re-advertised.
“So we took stuff out of the bids,” said Michael Grove, assistant school superintendent for finance and operations for Meriden Public Schools. Grove described the process that followed as “a little bit of value engineering.”
It is being funded through $1.8 million of the school district’s ARPA funds, along with another $400,000 from the city, Grove explained.
“This time, the city and the board are partnering together on the North End Field,” Grove said.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati wrote in an email the city took action during a recent City Council Finance Committee and following council meeting to allocate that $400,000 to “make up the difference in funding.”
“We are still working at bringing costs down, but I believe the City funding was transferred from funds that were remaining as part of an open bridge project that had been completed and had bonded money remaining,” Scarpati wrote.
To reduce costs, parks department staff will complete the demolition of above ground features at the park. “So the fencing, backstops, things of that nature,” Bourdon said Tuesday. “... Right now, we started on the fencing and bleachers yesterday.”
Meanwhile, the basketball court and playground construction will be funded through other grant monies received by Trinity Financial, the developers overseeing the construction of a mixed-income housing development at 85 Tremont St.
Officials did not provide a timeline for that project.
Officials expect contractors to begin the field reconstruction work in April. Those fields won’t be available for Washington Middle School’s spring athletic season. However, officials expect the work will be completed by September, allowing those fields to be used by the public during the fall sports season.
Grove said Washington Middle School’s teams will have other fields to play on this spring. They will be bused to the fields by Edison Middle School and at the Dunn Sports Complex.
Scarpati described the ongoing projects as part of a “greater North End neighborhood redevelopment.” He added that the Board of Education and Trinity Financial are partners in what he described as a “community project.”
Holly Wills, president of the Meriden Council of Neighborhoods, described city officials as having been “very communicative, very open with” North End residents about the process.
“Projects like this always improve the overall neighborhood and quality of life,” Wills said of the fields project. “It’s great to see that the city is investing funds into this neighborhood to improve it.”
In addition, the developers of the Tremont Street project, have also been in contact with the North End Neighborhood Association regarding that project.
“They are looking forward to neighborhood input,” Wills said.