New Wilton turf field, covered bubble at Allen's Meadow to be paid for with town funds, fundraising

WILTON — The town is drawing up plans for a new turf field, lighting and seasonal bubble on the state-owned section of Allen's Meadow. 

Construction of the new facilities is possible after the state Department of Transportation accepted new lease terms last month with the town for the 423 Danbury Road property. 

"This represents the most meaningful and needed improvement to Wilton's athletic and recreational facilities in 25 years," said J.R. Sherman, president of the Wilton Athletic & Recreation Foundation, which is expected to cover part of the cost through fundraising. Taxpayer dollars would cover the rest. "And I'm thankful that so many representatives from our community have aligned to see it become a reality."

Now, the town is working on plans — which will include some hard numbers — to present to voters at the May referendum vote.

"We were very surprised to receive the seasonal bubble approval," First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice told the Board of Selectmen last month following news on the renewal of the existing15-year lease, which also allows continued approval to the community gardens already in place.

"The Connecticut D.O.T. approved everything that we requested," she said, noting that the favorable decision had taken some time in coming but proven to be a pleasant surprise.

"We're waiting for the state lease," she said now, which will then supersede the current one, which expires in November. "We're not expecting any hiccups."

The question of how — and how much — funding will come through the town is still in the air. Vanderslice has asked the Board of Selectmen to decide on a recommendation that will be presented at the annual Town Meeting in May.

The expectation at this time is that the Wilton Athletic & Recreation Foundation — a local nonprofit abbreviated as WARF that gives monetary support for public and private initiatives with a focus on athletic and recreational infrastructure — will provide an as-yet-unknown portion of the cost.

"Over the next month we'll decide how much to recommend for the town's contribution and how much WARF will be asked to raise," Vanderslice said this week.

She said that bids for design and cost estimates were received last week and are being reviewed.

Vanderslice said costs for those designs and estimates will be covered with $60,000 previously raised by WARF — part of $300,000 the town holds in a "sinking" town turf fund, which it began in 2016.

"The RFQ (request for quote) was for a multi-field design," she said, to allow flexibility for future growth on the site.

"We felt it important to account for that possibility when determining the location for the field we are proposing," she said.

Vanderslice told the BOS that while a turf field alone was estimated at around $1.5 million prior to the pandemic, that cost has risen to over $2 million, though it may be decreasing.

She said that after the BOS decides upon a number to recommend, WARF would raise "the balance of the cost."

Vanderslice stressed that the town would not borrow the money for the project — nor contract with a vendor — until the collaborating funds from WARF are in place.

"The cost to install a bubble on the proposed turf field will not be included in the proposed May bonding referendum," she said. "We expect the vast majority of that cost will be funded through private donations."

Sherman said that in alignment with WARF's mission, the field and seasonal bubble, which would cover the field, were a top priority for his organization, which has evaluated many potential projects.

"The united and passionate group of volunteer parents that make up WARF has come together and collaborated with town leadership to bring forward a project for Allen's Meadows that addresses the broadest group of our athletic and recreational community," Sherman said.