Indoor domed sports complex proposed in Wilton

A sports complex, similar to the Danbury Sports Dome, is being discussed in Wilton.

A sports complex, similar to the Danbury Sports Dome, is being discussed in Wilton.

Carol Kaliff / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

WILTON — A potential plan for a domed sports complex was pitched to the Board of Selectmen last week after years of pushing for upgrades for the town’s recreation facilities.

Wilton residents Scott Lawrence and J.R. Sherman presented the board with their reasons for this project to bring full-size turf fields and basketball courts under an indoor domed structure. They explained that it would be useful for town residents and also could attract from around the area to practice and hold tournaments.

“Wilton has an opportunity here,” Lawrence said, comparing the project to the likes of the Danbury Sports Dome, which opened in 2013, and the Chelsea Piers bubble. “Wilton has a heavily outdoor sport community. We are faced with, let's be honest, not the greatest of winters or weather during these months. We took some time to look at, okay, if we want to put a similar structure to these in Wilton, how would it work and how much would it cost.”

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice outlined the history of the sports structure proposals in town over the last two decades.

In 2007, $10 million was authorized and approved at a town meeting back for the building of the Comstock Community Center. Talks of added amenities continued for years, and in 2015, two subcommittees formed to discuss more of a need.

Steve Pierce, who was involved in the $27 million proposal in 2007, also sat in on the meeting.

“In 2015, a number of residents led an initiative to have a third turf field built funded by donors at Middlebrook,” Vanderslice said. “After a lengthy and, at times, contentious time period, (they) approved the field but denied the lights. It didn’t move forward because we wouldn’t build a field that we couldn’t use at night time.”

The focus on the third full-size turf field was tabled until a better solution came to the forefront.

Now, instead of an outdoor field, a dome is being proposed to house a full-size turf field, to be utilized for various sports including soccer and lacrosse, and at least one basketball court, which Vanderslice said the town has been wanting for years.

Lawrence said that the structure would not compete with the YMCA because it wouldn't house a pool and is aiming to be a more universal sporting destination. He cited the trends of competitive sports becoming more interconnected across towns, counties and even states.

He said trends have gone from local town competitions to “regional, state and even national.” He added that sports training is a business that occurs everyday.

“Wilton teams are paying for these services in other, surrounding communities,” Lawrence said. “That is taking money coming from our community, paying for time in venues in surrounding towns. We thought, ‘wait, can we bring some of this money back to our town?’”

Selectwoman Deborah McFadden said that as a parent of children who played sports, she visited many of these dome-type venues in surrounding towns.

“I’ve spent a lot of money to watch my children play games in these facilities,” McFadden commented, also saying that this falls in line with the town’s economic plan.

Sherman, who is the head of the Wilton Lacrosse Association and is a youth sports coach, said that adding this destination to Wilton “raises everything to a different level.”

“Getting a full-size field is very important,” Lawrence reiterated. “It would be at least two, maybe three, times the size of what Wilton Sports and Fitness currently has.”

Continuing with the comparison to the Danbury Sports Dome, which has a full-sized field at 110 yards by 70 yards, Lawrence said that is the goal.

“Yes, it is a big space,” he said. “But it allows you to get regulation size games for NCAA, youth and even adult sports that can play two games at a time on the field.”

He explained that, for practices and smaller recreational games, the field could also be divided into pods by detachable nets.

“You could have four different teams practicing each hour,” he said, stating that it was a good way to monetize the use of the field. He said that even beyond the colder months, when the weather is just generally poor or there is rain, many leagues will utilize the proposed structure for practices and games.

He also stressed that Wilton Schools should have access to this to be able to practice during poor weather, as this should be a town-focused structure first.

“This puts us on the map for tours and tournaments,” Lawrence told the board.