By Danny Atkinson
High school athletics has always been an important part of West Haven’s identity and has brought residents together. The success of West Haven High School in many sports speaks to the support from both the school community and the city at large. That support is apparent when one visits the athletic facilities that surround the WHHS campus, which co-Athletic Director Michael Anquillare described as the nicest in the surrounding area. Nevertheless, every field needs a makeover occasionally.
Ken Strong Stadium, Elliot Marnell Track, and the Frank Biondi Softball Field, which are all within Fitzgerald Sports Complex, have each needed major renovations or reconstruction projects since the facility opened in 1989. When the West Haven American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Committee began examining projects at West Haven High it could spend the federal funds on, Anquillare and fellow AD Joe Morrell recognized an opportunity for these fields and the track to get necessary updates. Come the 2023-24 school year, the fields would again be state-of-the-art.
Beginning last year, the ADs and ARPA Committee Chairman Ken Carney came together with Superintendent Neil C. Cavallaro and Sports Complex Manager Chris Everone to form a committee to discuss and outline the renovations and reconstruction that could be done to these fields and the track with available funds. While the number of desired improvements was long, removing and replacing the synthetic turf on the football field, doing the same with the synthetic track, and converting the grass softball field, which has had extensive drainage issues, to an all-weather turf field were at the top of the list.
Carney succinctly described why the fields and track needed to be worked on as soon as possible.
“The turf football field is 12 years old and has been subject to hurricane flooding multiple times, and the surrounding track has been in place for roughly 15 years and has two unusable lanes. The softball field can be unusable at times at the beginning of the season and after high tides and heavy rain,” he said.
“Everything came together to have these projects worked on at the same time,” Anquillare said. “It’s hard to think of another school that has so many quality facilities in an athletic complex. Our athletes are very lucky to play on them.”
After the committee came up with the renovations and reconstructions that were needed and presented them to the City Council and ARPA Committee, Carney and the committee approached the companies FieldTurf USA Inc. and Astro Turf to each do a quote of how much funding was needed based upon their proposal. At the same time, Carney said a team from the engineering firm KBA (based in New Britain) did a study on the fields and track to tell everyone involved in the project “exactly what was wrong with them.” The quotes showed that using Field Turf would be more affordable and WHHS could renegotiate the proposal with them more easily.
The ARPA committee and FieldTurf came to an official agreement to work on a project to renovate and reconstruct Ken Strong Stadium, Biondi Field, and Marnell Track in the spring. The final amount of appropriated funds came to $2,560,650. Carney and Anquillare verified that the work on the football field began the week of July 17 and will continue the remainder of the summer, running through September. Work should be done in time for West Haven’s opening football home game against Jonathan Law of Milford, Sept. 14.
Work on the track and softball field will then commence and run through the fall, with FieldTurf scheduled to finish its work on the softball field in December.
Carney said that because the work is all being covered by ARPA funds at once and the expense can be removed from a bonding list, West Haven taxpayers will not have to pay for any of the reconstruction and renovation at the Fitzgerald Complex.
The funding appropriated to the football field and track renovations is $1,609,500. In addition to the synthetic turf and synthetic track surfacing being removed and replaced, FieldTurf is furnishing and installing a new 1.5” pavement overlay on the track. The track will be painted blue with gray exchange zones. FieldTurf will work to improve anchor curbing and furnish and install new drainage zones and jumping pits. Finally, the existing fencing posts will be painted and the mesh and poles surrounding the field and track will be replaced. A black vinyl coated chain link fence will be installed.
The funding appropriated towards the reconstruction of the softball field is $919,500. This includes removing grass and installing synthetic turf, removing, and replacing of the dugouts, and the installation of new bullpens on both the third and first base side of the field. The bullpen on the first base side will be within a batting cage. Finally, the existing backstop will be rebuilt with black vinyl tension netting and increased in size to meet the new dugout areas. As already stated, the reconstruction of Frank Biondi Field is anticipated to be done within a 3-month timeline in the fall.
The remainder of the project funding is the performance and payment bond and comes to $31,650.
Carney and Anquillare said that their working relationships with the FieldTurf staff overseeing and working on the renovation and reconstruction of the fields and track at WHHS is strong and the project has gone smoothly so far. It is being overseen by Andrew Dyjak, the FieldTurf Regional Vice President for New England, and Christopher Hulk, the company’s Director of Design and Construction.
Anquillare and Carney are very confident that this project will immediately have a positive impact on WHHS athletics, and its ramifications will be long-lasting.
“I think we did a very good job planning out how this project would go and researching all the important information for it,” Anquillare said. “The school is really excited about this, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to see the work finally being done. Once the athletes get on the fields, I think the improvements are really going to stand out.”
“A lot of the facilities at WHHS are already state of the art, and I believe this reconstruction will enhance the quality of the sports complex considerably and offer a world-class facility to students,” Carney said.