City takeover of WWII park set for end of month

City takeover of WWII park set for end of month

But Verizon strike limits use of ballfield

WOONSOCKET – It’s been years in the making, but a $2.6 million park rehabilitation project is nearing completion, with an opening of all facilities tentatively scheduled for around Memorial Day.

World War II Veterans Memorial Park will soon become a city-owned and operated property, and Woonsocket officials are awaiting a sign-off by state authorities indicating that work at the 14-acre park – tackled over the past two years by contractor Manafort Bros. of Connecticut – is complete.

The official turnover of the currently state-owned park is expected to happen near the end of the month.

But that doesn’t mean the lights at the park’s Lajoie Ballfield – where Woonsocket Little League held opening day in April – will actually be turned on.

The lights, which have already been installed and wired, are being held up by a labor dispute at Verizon Communications. According to Public Works Director Steven D’Agostino, electric company National Grid has indicated that a pole needs to be moved before the company can send power to the field, and light up the new facility for evening games. Verizon owns that pole, and thanks to a strike that’s kept some 40,000 workers from their job for the past month, it is unclear when the company will be able to get to the work.

“We have several requests into them,” D’Agostino said. “Everything’s just kind of on hold.”

As a result, Woonsocket Little League Major Division games have been held back at their old stomping grounds - Ayotte Field on Providence Street. Last November the city sold the property that held the field to Cumberland Farms, and it was announced that league games would be moving to the new Social Street facility.

In April, the league celebrated opening day at the World War II Park field – named after the late Hall of Fame second baseman Napoleon Lajoie, who grew up in Woonsocket and played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Athletics and Cleveland Indians. Players wore baseball caps with the nickname “Nap” embroidered on them and a parade was held to celebrate the opening.

The league has not played a game there since.

The problem, explained baseball parent Amy Thibault, is that most games start at 6 p.m. and run well into the evening.

“We can’t use it for our regularly scheduled weeknight games, per the city, until the strike is over,” Thibault said. “The games can run long at time and would have to be called due to darkness. My kids’ game started at 5:30 on Friday and didn’t end until 8:15 or so.”

Thibault said the league has been given the OK to to play rainouts/makeups at Lajoie during the day at on the weekend.

D’Agostino said that the league – the only one currently authorized to use the park – has full permission to use the facility but has opted to utilize the brighter field.

And baseball season is halfway done.

On a brighter note, the rest of the park – including new basketball courts, a playground, pedestrian walkways and a “splash pad” where city kids will be able to cool off this summer, is nearing completion. The splash pad is expected to be open on days throughout the summer of 2016, with a parks employee on site at all times to deal with any maintenance issues.

D’Agostino said that both the playground and splash pad will officially be open to city residents immediately following the takeover.

In terms of when that will happen the public works director said, “I don’t have a specific date, somewhere around Memorial Day. Right now it’s still a state park so they are in the driver’s seat.”

One of the public works employees will be left on site once the splash pad opens and D’Agostino said that the department may need to hire temporary help for the summer. Staff could be paid for with the funds the state of Rhode Island has set aside in their budget for maintenance – expected to total $250,000 per year for the next five years.

D’Agostino said that for the most part, the city is happy with the results of the rehabilitation and that they are only waiting to tie up “loose ends” in terms of landscaping and plantings. The city, he said touches base with contractor Manafort on a daily basis.

“I’m anxious for it to open and to take ownership,” D’Agostino said. “I’d like to see it used.”