Approved plan sets course for better fields

Approved plan sets course for better fields

CUMBERLAND – The town’s athletic fields will have better care and more rest under a maintenance plan unanimously approved by the Town Council last week following some 18 months of debate.

This joint undertaking between the Parks and Recreation and Highway Departments will follow a detailed schedule recommended by outside turf expert Scott Mackintosh in a presentation last April.

Councilor Robert Shaw Jr., a board member at the Cumberland Youth Soccer Association whose children are among those who use the fields, said it was his “great pleasure” to introduce the plan for passage at the March 6 council meeting.

“I think what we have before you here is a great first step in getting our fields where we would like them to be,” he told colleagues.

This much-needed plan will be quite an undertaking, and there are still some questions about usage, scheduling and equipment, but approving it is another step in recognizing the struggle Cumberland has had in maintaining its fields, said Shaw. The “road map to get our fields on the path to recovery” will hopefully transform the fields into some of the most desirable facilities around, he added.

Shaw said he couldn’t be happier with the way everyone worked together on this project. The plan calls for $52,000 to be spent annually on maintaining the fields to the recommendations of Mackintosh, including correcting soil and turf grass deficiencies, removing weeds, planting the right types of grasses, properly irrigating grass, and managing soil compaction with such machines as aerators.

Irrigated town fields include the Diamond Hill Fields, the Bentley Baseball Complex, Tucker Fields, Cumberland Hill Fields, B.F. Norton Fields, Garvin Field, Razze Field, Berkeley Field, and the High School Top and Pit Fields.

Non-irrigated town fields include the High School JV Field, Ashton Field, St. John Vianney Fields, Pit Softball Field, Cumberland Hill Softball Field, and Tucker Softball Field.

There are more than 34 acres of athletic fields in town, with more than 25 of those having water access, and more fields are set to come online soon at the newly acquired Mercy Woods property in the northeast corner of town.

The field plan will be implemented right away, with applications starting this spring.

Shaw said there was a good discussion with Mayor Jeff Mutter two weeks ago about how the fields will be managed, with rules laid out prohibiting various groups from taking steps to address fields on their own outside of the management plan.

Mutter told the council last week that everyone seems to be on the same page and everyone wants to achieve the same thing, which is to “execute it as it should be executed.” He said it’s the town’s job to maintain the fields and officials don’t want doubling of duties. He and others expect there will be some hiccups along the way, but those will be sorted out.

The new fields at Mercy Woods will ultimately help in the effort to rest some athletic facilities, said Mutter, but those fields will not be coming online in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, as the town has yet to establish a water source there.

Councilor Scott Schmitt said this “great plan” is long overdue.

Resident and frequent council meeting participant Deborah Vine-Smith raised concerns about the use of chemicals on the fields, both as a potential health risk to young people and as a pollutant to nearby bodies of water.

Schmitt noted that Mackintosh is well aware of proper standards, and is a father himself with children who play baseball. He added that Mackintosh made a comment last year that he wouldn’t allow his children to play on Cumberland fields because of their poor condition.

Councilor Lisa Beaulieu, responding to Vine-Smith’s concerns, said officials should identify environmental standards to align with, saying the town should look at what other communities are doing to lessen their environmental impact and protect the health of children.

Shaw said Parks and Recreation Commission members did their due diligence with this plan, and the products to be used are no different than the ones used elsewhere. The expectation is that a much lower volume of chemicals will need to be applied if they’re being put down on a consistent schedule and to certain standards.