School Committee: No appetite for Barry Field sale

School Committee: No appetite for Barry Field sale

WOONSOCKET – In a clear airing of their views on the subject, a majority of Woonsocket School Committee members last week said they have no interest in Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt’s proposal to develop Barry Field.

The conversation took place during a School Committee meeting last Wednesday, Feb. 10, just one week after members discussed the subject in closed session. Chairman Paul Bourget asked members to each share their opinion on the issue. He’s made his own views clear in previous comments and repeated them again last week.

“The one thing that the city has, it has plenty of parks, but it doesn’t have much open land,” he said, adding he’d say no to the project if asked today.

Only one member, Amie Costa, expressed support for the proposal and a companion proposal to relocate the athletic fields to Cass Park. Raising concerns about the difficulties of transporting student athletes to the other side of the city, Costa said she would support both projects if the School Committee can get their questions answered by the administration.

“I definitely think I would lean for it, absolutely,” she said. “If we can make revenue from Barry Field for the city of Woonsocket, absolutely, I don’t see why we wouldn’t want to make that happen.”

For the remaining members, however, the proposal remained a thorny topic. Last fall, Baldelli-Hunt renewed the conversation about moving the city’s athletic fields when she announced a plan shortly before the November election to finance the project with the sale of gravel from Cass Park. At the time, several members of the City Council and School Committee balked at the campaign-style rollout and said they’d received little advance notice of the plans.

Since then, Baldelli-Hunt has continued to seek the support of the council and School Committee on what could become a defining project of her administration. During a work session earlier this month, City Solicitor John DeSimone reaffirmed the support of the two boards would be essential to removing a deed restriction limiting Barry Field to athletic and educational use.

“We would not begin that process and incur those costs and time and energy unless first the School Committee was on board and then the council,” he said.

While DeSimone said he would seek a vote of approval from both boards before pursuing the issue in Superior Court, Councilor James Cournoyer, speaking after him, said it was the School Committee, and only the School Committee, that had control over the property. Reading from the original deed, he said the parcel had been set aside “for the purpose of athletic fields and playgrounds for the pupils of the public schools of the city of Woonsocket.”

“The deed is very clear, very specific. It says to use the property forever in trust for athletic fields and playgrounds, and then they give you some wiggle room to put up a school building,” he said.

The 22-acre parcel came under city control in 1926, when the city purchased it from the Woonsocket Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society for $75,000. Its dedication on June 4, 1926, was marked by a 2-1 win over the Hope High School baseball team, the first of many athletic victories on the property.

Woonsocket High School Principal Carnell Henderson reminisced about times spent at the field during comments to the School Committee last week. Both he and Supt. Patrick McGee were critical of Baldelli-Hunt’s plans for Cass Park, saying that based on the renderings they’ve seen, there’s not enough room for all of the playing space and practice fields currently located at Barry Field.

“In terms of just the overall space to house equipment, players, what a clubhouse brings to Barry Field, we don’t have any of that space in the rendition that I saw,” Henderson said.

He compared the plans to a car purchase, saying that while the Barry Field clubhouse might “need a makeover,” the Cass Park space doesn’t match what’s needed.

“The Porsche is me being selfish. The mini van is what I need,” he said.

Baldelli-Hunt responded to the comments in an email to The Breeze, questioning whether school administrators also disagreed with improvements in recent years at the baseball field, softball field, basketball courts and tennis courts in and around Cass Park. She said any additional field development at Cass park will be an improvement for the residents and student-athletes of the city and said it’s in the best interest of the city to move the projects forward.

“Some folks are content with the status quo; we continue to work to improve the lives of residents and students in Woonsocket. Whoever doesn’t recognize the benefit of an athletic complex possibly shouldn’t be in the position they are in,” she said.

Baldelli-Hunt also said she hasn’t received any questions about the project from Bourget despite his strong opposition.

“The easy way out is to say, ‘It can’t be done.’ I say, ‘buckle down’ and find a way,” she said.

Director of Public Works Steven D’Agostino also indicated a desire to move the field relocation forward with or without the Education Department’s support.

“Cass Park is a city park, we do not need Carnell Henderson’s blessing or permission to move forward with improvements to our parks,” he said.

While Baldelli-Hunt accused Henderson and McGee of having a “change of heart” on the plans for Cass Park, the two administrators claimed during the meeting to have raised concerns about the amount of space several years ago when shown an early version of the renderings.

Costa urged her fellow committee members not to make assumptions about the projects prior to a walk-through of Barry Field scheduled for Feb. 27 and a joint meeting with the council in March.

Alan Leclaire said he saw no reason to sell Barry Field after the recommendations of the principal and superintendent, and Donald Burke said it went against the School Committee’s mission. Lynn Kapiskas said she needed to see more work on the Cass Park plans before she could make a decision about Barry Field.

“There’s too many unanswered questions to really formulate a concise opinion,” she said.

With Baldelli-Hunt still indicating plans to move forward on the Cass Park portion, the two sides appear headed for showdown over the location of the city’s athletic fields. Bourget said during the meeting the School Committee has hired its own attorney to look into the situation.

Comments

Baldelli-Hunt questioned whether school administrators also disagreed with improvements in recent years at the baseball field, softball field, basketball courts and tennis courts in and around Cass Park. She said any additional field development at Cass park will be an improvement for the residents and student-athletes of the city and said it’s in the best interest of the city to move the projects forward.

Improvements to Cass Park is NOT the issue.

The issue to which the School Committee and the Woonsocket Education Department is responding to is the "plan" put forth by the Mayor to relocate the athletic facilities currently housed at Barry Field over to Cass Park in order to free up Barry Field for development (e.g. for a supermarket).

Unfortunately, neither the School Committee, the City Council nor anyone else has been provided with a real Plan to review and respond to. Rather, the School Committee and others have been left to respond only to a "rendering" that was rolled out at a Press Conference days before last November's election wherein the Mayor stated: “We have everything we need to move forward with the construction of the football field here at Cass Park, which will make Barry Field available..."

A rendering and a political flyer is NOT a Plan.

Don't criticize the School Committee for responding to a non-Plan.

I NEVER for one second believed the Mayor's (LBH) plan for a supermarket in the Barry Field Location would happen ... I have always believed that to be a poorly planned cover story for some ulterior usage because I truly doubt any supermarket would locate there in the worst location possible in Woonsocket to survive and thrive ... I believe the mayor has some other self serving plans for Barry Field that would benefit friends or family .... A big thumbs up to the Woonsocket School Committee !! PS How about a Supermarket in the old Sears building ? (A much better location )

The repeated underhanded attempts by this administration to usurp the authority of the school committee is disgraceful. “Whoever doesn’t recognize the benefit of an athletic complex possibly shouldn’t be in the position they are in,” says the mayor. Wow! A SLAP in the face of Mr Henderson and Dr McGee! I’m sure the athletic director and coaches also have concerns plus the requirements of the governing body of school sports. Sure, develop Cass Park. Make a nice beacon of light that can be followed into the city to catch the big game, but, where are the teams to practice, have a locker room facility and store equipment? If each team is allowed a 90 minute practice time then the fall teams will be practicing until 9pm if only one field is available. Then you need to schedule around games. Many times Barry Field hosts a JV football game, a soccer game and field hockey at the same time while allowing other teams to practice in the designated areas. Disgusting. Let’s also not forget the administrations attempt to get a judgement in court without the school committee consent. DIRTY POLITICS.