Wilton commission requests $1.65M for field and park improvements

WILTON — The Parks and Recreation Commission is requesting roughly $1.65 million to improve drainage, build a new turf field and make upgrades at Merwin Meadows Park — all of which it deems a “high priority.”

The request will go before the Board of Selectmen next week.

It includes $700,000 for a phase of the commission’s top priority — an irrigation and water drainage project. It also includes $700,000 for part of the proposal for a new turf field with lights and $250,000 for a phase of a playground at Merwins Meadows Park.

The list was finalized after a full-group discussion with Parks and Recreation Director Steve Pierce and Department of Public Works Director Frank Smeriglio Tuesday.

“This gets three of our six projects moving,” commission chairwoman Anna Marie Bilella said at the tail end of the conversation. “It has real impact across the community, not just from a pure sports (aspect), but it also incorporates the recreational piece with Merwin Meadows and then still looks to advance us from a facilities and assets (perspective) to progress where we are trying to go.”

Bilella unveiled a list of priorities for the commission. First, improving drainage and irrigation across the town’s many playing fields and addressing potential problem areas was considered an “immediate concern” by commissioner Joe Guglielmo and others.

The first phase of irrigation measures would be taken at Middlebrook Middle School’s fields.

Next, implementing a new turf field with lights was considered the commission’s second highest priority. Bilella said that a completely new field with lights would cost around $2.2 million, although she initially anticipated the number to “hover around $1.5 million.”

Pierce said that the field itself would cost roughly $2 million, while the remaining $200,000 would come from “soft costs” including survey work and accumulating samples.

While the request for funds would not cover the full cost of the field, some commissioners were adamant that starting this project was of high importance.

“Having lived here for 15 years, unless we take action, years become decades,” Guglielmo said. He added that many of Wilton’s neighbors, including New Canaan, Ridgefield and Darien, have all added to their turf field complexes in recent years. He said that if the town funds some of the project this year, they could request more funding next year and fundraise in between.

An upgrade to the Merwin Meadows Park complex followed that.

Phase one of those replacements would be to replace the current playground and install new fencing, which would total $250,000. A second phase would be renovating the bath house, which Pierce said “hasn’t been touched since the 1960s.” The commission did not say they would request money for the second phase at the upcoming selectmen meeting.

The commission also listed the previously-proposed domed indoor fieldhouse, enhancing and improving existing fields in its inventory and a new dog park as the final three priorities.

A flood mitigation plan for the Wilton High School Veterans Memorial Stadium had initially been on top of the list, following a historically strong storm last year that flooded the stadium and then newly built track.

Bilella said First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice pulled the high school stadium off the priority list the commission initially sent because funding is already earmarked for the project using American Rescue Plan Act money.

The town has prioritized two major projects for that money — the implementation of the new emergency radio system and the Wilton High School athletic complex flood mitigation plan. Pierce and Smeriglio have both been meeting with recreational vendor Stantec, who has collaborated on numerous projects with the town, on pricing for the stadium mitigation undertaking.