May 2, 2019 — Roughly two dozen parents of Weston athletes confronted school district officials and the Board of Education at the board’s April 29 meeting. The ten or so who spoke were unsparing in their criticism of the district’s maintenance of Revson Field and other baseball and softball diamonds.
The problems at Revson are most acute. As the season approached, the field was an unplayable swamp. Athletes could not practice, and when the spring schedule began, many home games had to be relocated to fields in other towns.
The problems are also long in the making. They appear to have existed from the beginning, when the field was built more than fifteen years ago. This year, past and current mistakes and oversights overcame events, and the school district, which did not build the field but has maintained it since 2011, dropped the ball. This according to Superintendent Dr. William McKersie, who told us in March: “We blew it. We failed the students, and we have to fix it.”
At the beginning of Monday night’s Board meeting (after a more pleasant presentation of honors to outstanding students and athletes) Finance Director Richard Rudl, who appears to have assumed management of school grounds during the prolonged leave of the facilities director, gave a status report of why conditions are so bad at Revson and what is being done.
Mr. Rudl said the field was poorly constructed and improperly sloped. He added that the maintenance staff has been cut in half, down to two workers after a termination and an injury to a groundskeeper. He said this year the problems were compounded by heavier-than-usual rains over the past several months.
All of this is true. As we understand it, the field was built on ground that was not properly excavated, leading to persistent drainage problems. We are told that the layout of the diamond had to be changed when it was discovered the sun would be in the eyes of batters. When it was re-oriented, so was the drainage pattern, now running directly into the infield. Some years ago, the field’s soil was found to contain glass, a danger to players, leading to a costly replacement, but no improvements to the basic structure.
Meanwhile, it has been quite rainy. Connecticut rainfall in 2018 was at record highs. During one four-month period late in the year, it was 50 percent above average. This does not appear likely to change. The National Weather Service tells us the state’s annual rainfall has steadily increased for the past several decades. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expects it to continue to climb.
This leaves the question of what to do.
In early April, the school district awarded an emergency $130 thousand contract to a landscaping service to make the fields playable, maintain them through November, and close them properly. (The fields were neither properly closed last year nor properly opened this.)
A few days into the contract, the service informed the administration that it could not perform the task to professional standards because nothing short of total reconstruction would do the job. Two days later, the work was given to another firm, which now maintains all fields on campus. Judging from comments by the Superintendent at the meeting, it appears the expectation is that this work will continue to be contracted out going forward.
We understand the district would be happy to have the Town, specifically Parks and Recreation, take over field management. It is not at all clear the move would be cost effective, not does it seem Parks and Recreation is particularly eager to have Revson back on its plate.
Several parents have told us they hope, and some urged at the meeting, that funds be allocated to rebuild Revson. Some seem to believe money is already in the budget. It is not. The cost would greatly exceed $1 million, and the budget for capital improvements is already tight. It will be under great pressure in future years. There also appears to be little hope that an investment will be made anytime soon to install a turf field, short of a community fundraising effort. This too would likely also cost over $1 million, and would seem to require reconstruction to begin with.
Several parents have also told us they worry current maintenance measures are mere bandaids that won’t hold. It is a frustrating situation, and anger was in the air at the Board meeting.
“You failed us,” said one, speaking both to the Board and to district officials. “How do we know this won’t happen again?” “It falls on your shoulders,” one told Dr. McKersie. Another called for his resignation.
One warned school officials not to neglect Little League, saying Weston is one of the few towns not losing registrations, and is having great success, having won the district championship for the first time last year.
Parents of softball players were particularly irate, saying the girls feel like second class citizens, the sport does not get its fair share of resources, equipment is lacking and installed wrong when it arrives, and that communication about fields and schedules is woeful.
“It isn’t just about the fields,” concluded one parent. “It’s about competence, and a culture of unaccountability.”
Public comment periods at Board of Education meetings, except for hearings, run one direction. The public speaks, Board members and school officials listen. They do not reply.