MANCHESTER, NH – The Board of Aldermen on Tuesday voted in favor of entering a partnership with Trinity High School that would makeover the lower athletic field at Derryfield Park.
As outlined in a draft agreement [see below] the two-phase project would commence this year and include adding a turf field, bleachers, lighting, fencing and other improvement at a cost of $2.7 million. Phase 2 would include building a structure for locker rooms, showers, a concession stand and other improvements at a cost of $1.5 million.
Under the terms of the agreement, Trinity would take on 60 percent of the costs, manage the field and schedule maintenance and repairs. As part of the agreement, a $50,000 annual capital reserve fund would be established after five years for future maintenance, with the same 60/40 percent split between Trinity and the city.
Since 2009 Trinity and the city have operated together so that Trinity could use both the lower and upper fields as needed. The upper field would remain under the city’s jurisdiction and Trinity would continue to pay an annual $3,000 usage fee.
Ward 5 Alderman Tony Sapienza was the lone dissenter on the project.
“We voted to have the city enter a partnership with Trinity High School to work on the ball fields at Derryfield Park, well now we have a million-dollar vote – it’s over a million dollars of city money. It’s going to cost us over $120,000 a year to enter into this agreement and after five years it’s going to cost $140,000 because of the money going to capital reserve fund. I’m all for fixing up ball fields, but we have budget season coming up and I think this ought to at least be delayed until budget season, when the money can be identified in the budget,” Sapienza said.
“We just put $2 million into Gill Stadium for ball fields, so how much money are we going to put into ball fields? I like ball fields but we have competing priorities in this city for that million dollars,” Sapienza said. “If we have a million dollars to invest I think we need to consider some other priorities, particularly the schools — the schools are desperate, and we’re considering partnering with a private school with city funds? I just don’t get it. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe this is the time for this.”
Alderman Joe Levasseur shot back with a hotel analogy.
“Alderman 5 voted to spend $3 million for a hotel down on Bedford lot which the developer only has to pay back half and he didn’t vote for it to pay back interest until we got a new vote on that. Trinity High School is going to fix up something that needs to be fixed up, they’re going to pay back 60 percent and they’ll be paying a maintenance fee on that — and they’ll use it,” Levasseur said.
“And as Alderman Barry pointed out to me earlier, a good percentage of children who go there are Manchester residents. They save us a fortune by having students go to that school that pay $13,000 a year for tuition and do not cost the city of Manchester $11,000 a year for them to be in our schools. It’s a good public private partnership,” Levasseur said.
He said the project not only makes fiscal sense, but physical sense.
“I actually wish we were doing a bigger project where they could push some of the park forward toward the West Side and make it even bigger with more parking, and do a bigger job on it. What they’re asking for, generally speaking, most people come to us with their hand out, and they don’t ever make an offer to pay a portion of it back,” Levasseur said. “I wholeheartedly support this project.”
Alderman John Cataldo had requested a cost comparison between maintenance on the existing grass field versus the proposed turf, and asked that the proposal go back to committee.
Alderman Bill Barry also spoke in favor of the project, and pointed out that Trinity already has an agreement with the city to use the fields.
“They’re stepping up to beautify it and make it safer. It’s a win-win situation for both because, especially when school’s out for the summer months, it will give opportunity for our kids to use the park all summer,” Barry said.
City Parks Director Don Pinard said contracts for construction would be handled by Trinity, and the city would oversee the plans. Construction oversight would be done through Trinity’s consultant — who also was consultant for Gill Stadium improvements for the city. “We’ll be involved every step of the way,” Pinard said.
Alderman Dan O’Neil said the project is a “rare opportunity” for the city.
“Trinity was looking to get higher-quality fields, and it’s an opportunity for us. If Trinity didn’t step up this field wouldn’t even be in discussion in the CIP budget,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil also pointed out that the fields are used by city teams, including four East Cobra football teams, cheerleaders, and three adult softball leagues.
“The sky’s the limit on the use, especially with the lights going in,” O’Neil said. “I think we’re foolish if we don’t jump at the chance to partner with them.”
O’Neil also addressed Alderman Cataldo’s question about cost of maintenance, which was echoed by Pinard and Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard.
“A field used as much as these fields, turf is the best product. Grass requires rest over time. Fisher Cats put down grass because they can rest their fields, but our fields are used continuously. Turf is the best product for fields with a lot of use,” Sheppard said.
Pinard said maintenance for sod versus synthetic surfaces over time is costly, and according to industry data, it is probably 10 times more expensive to maintain sod than turf.
Alderman Elizabeth Moreau said she agreed with Alderman Sapienza about the wisdom of investing in a ball field when weighed against the city’s other needs, particularly against school needs, but said that she saw the value in the project for city children and ultimately voted in favor of the draft agreement
Below is a copy of the draft agreement as it appeared in the Feb. 5 meeting packet: