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Almost $1 Million Raised For Strong Center At The Surf Club Project; Selectmen Express Willingness To Support Project

Project Will Cost Around $2.5 Million; Phase I Could Start As Early As Fall If Fund Raising Continues To Go Well

The Strong Center at the Surf Club organization has raised almost $1 million in cash, grants, in-kind donations, and pledges so far, Duo Dickinson reported at the Board of Selectmen meeting earlier this week.

 Dickinson, attending the meeting with fellow Strong Center at the Surf Club board member Larry Ciotti, was there to provide the board with information about the organization’s progress so far and to ascertain the town’s commitment and willingness to participate in the project.

The Strong Center at the Surf Club organization is raising money and support to refurbish the badly worn-out field, and also to transform it into a venue that could showcase a wide range of sports and cultural events. Members of the organization envision having a multi-purpose turf field and athletic park with two field houses, a concession stand and entry plaza where now there is only battered grass, a tiny building, and rickety bleachers. 

What would remain consistent, of course, is the location, at the Surf Club right on Long Island Sound, although the fields themselves might be reoriented to make them more useful to a wider range of sports and activities, according to the current proposal from the Strong Center at the Surf Club organization.

 Fund set up by Harold C. Strong could provide some financial support

A preliminary budget for the project, prepared by the Strong Center at the Surf Club organization, is $2.5 million, including $500,000 for a turf field, $500,000 for turf prep and subsurface, $200,000 for new field lighting, $400,000 for new and renovated bleachers, $700,000 for buildings and renovations, and $200,000 for ancillary and contingency.

The selectmen indicated a willingness to put both money and resources behind the project. The exact amount was not specified, but members of the board said it was likely that a fund created specifically for the maintenance of Strong Field could be used for the project.

 First Selectman Fillmore McPherson said a fund was set up by Harold C. Strong in the early 1990s to provide for maintenance, care, and improvement to Strong Field, subject to the approval of the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance. “We do have a reasonable sized fund and if we saw fit some portion of it could be used for the Strong Field improvement project,” he said. “It is worth starting a discussion.”

 Town’s Long Term Capital Projects Review Committee could be another source of funds

 Selectmen William Gladstone and Noreen Kokoruda said the town’s Long Term Capital Projects Review Committee (LoCap) meet recently and discussed the possibility of getting funding for the Strong project from a variety of sources.

“Redoing the field and bleachers are both on LoCAP’s list and both are safety issues,” she said. “Kids are getting injured on the field.”

 Town Engineer and Public Works Director Michael Ott said the bleachers appear to be structurally safe, but that they need improvements to the railings and some of the openings need to be made smaller.

Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) could be additional source of funding

McPherson said, in addition to the Strong Fund, the town might want to consider looking into a grant from the Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP). “We could apply but we [the town] would have to put up matching funds,” he said, adding that the Strong Fund could serve as the source of the matching funds.

Dickinson also told the Board of Selectmen that the Strong Center at the Surf Club organization is now, officially, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization, which should help with the fundraising process.

Both he and Ciotti said they were pleased with the pace of donations and commitments, particularly given recent difficult economic times.

Positive response to requests for donations

“We have had a very positive response, especially in this economic climate,” Ciotti said. One advantage of doing the project soon, he said, is that the economic downturn has resulted in lower construction costs.

In addition to discussing options for monetary support, including the Strong Fund, LoCap funds, and the possibility of applying for a STEAP grant, the selectmen also authorized Ott to evaluate the scope of his involvement in the project and report back to the board on that.

Dickinson and Ciotti said they appreciate the board’s willingness to participate in the project. He said having the town officially on board will make it easier to raise additional money for the project. Selectman Gladstone agreed.

Combined efforts of town and Strong Center at the Surf Club organization will make project “even better”

“Sooner or later we’re going to have to spend money at the field,” Gladstone said. “We’re thrilled we can work with you to make it even better.”

In a document provided to the Board of Selectmen by Dickinson and Ciotti, the Strong Center at the Surf Club organization made the following points about the proposed project:

  • The existing bleachers and light stanchions can be salvaged and reused.
  • The town already has experience creating and maintaining turf fields because there is one at the high school
  • Using synthetic fields and reorienting them would allow for a multi-sport use facility that could be available for football, soccer, lacrosse, and adult softball, among other sports for three full seasons
  • Arts activities, such as concerts, Shakespeare, band convocations, could be accommodated by the new field

If $1.75 million is raised by Sept. 1 2011, Phase I of the project could be initiated, according to the document provided to the Board of Selectmen. The town would be responsible for full site engineering, including “determination of actual wetlands boundaries, preliminary negotiations with the State on coastal aspects, and a full review of the permitting sequencing for the project.”

Several other organizations in town also would be involved at that point, according to the document, including the Advisory Council on Community Appearances,  Inland Wetlands, Planning and Zoning, and the Zoning Board of Appeals. Hearings with these various organizations could take between three and five months, according to the estimate in the document.

Jeanneen Griffin March 31, 2011 at 11:37 AM
I am flabbergasted at the town leader's "Alice in Wonderland" approach to leading our town. Why do we need to spend one more dime on ball fields???? The school age population in town is FALLING. And, the town insists on spending our hard earned money at the Griswold site to create what may arguably be THE most expensive ball fields on the shoreline! Now we're going to commit town funds to yet another unnecessary project?
Philip T. Ventre March 31, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Philip T. Ventre 1am on Thursday, March 31, 2011 I believe that the proposed project to modify and improve the sports facility at the Surf Club will indeed be a valuable investment in the future of community activities for families and an investment in the cultural life of Madison residents. As the Music Director of the Wallingford Symphony, which presents with the Shoreline Youth Symphony the very well attended Madison Cultural Arts Concert on the Green during the July 4th weekend, I believe a Concert by the Sea would be a unique and very appealing event for Madison residents. What better way to enhance the cultural life of our community and of the shoreline as well!
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 31, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Hi Jeanneen. Thanks for commenting. Just to clarify, my sense at the meeting was that the town is interested in trying to use money that has already been set aside for maintenance of these specific fields by someone who donated money to the town. They also are going to look into the possibility of state funding, still taxpayer dollars but not specifically from the town. Private donors will be kicking in as well. As with Griswold, it may well be a combination of town money, state money, and private donations. No town funds were committed at the meeting earlier this week. Also, Griswold will be a combination of passive recreation (areas to hike and walk), ball fields, and other uses, serving a wide range of residents from the town and area, much like the Surf Club, Bauer Park, Rockland, and other recreational areas in town.
Pem McNerney (Editor) March 31, 2011 at 04:19 PM
Philip, thanks for your comments too. You make some great points about how this project will enhance the cultural life of the community. Due speaks with great enthusiasm about the kinds of exciting events people like you might be able to bring to Madison. My hope is that this project can be done in a way that fulfills this promise of this kind of opportunity, while at the same time addressing the legitimate concerns of people like Jeanneen, who are rightly concerned about our hard-earned tax dollars. I'm hoping that the fund raising will help alleviate some of those concerns and so appreciate the work being done by Duo, Larry, and other volunteers on this project.
Carolyn Rotermund March 31, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Thank you Larry and Duo for spearheading this wonderful endeavor!
Jack Navarro April 01, 2011 at 06:26 PM
This is an outstanding project for the entire Madison community particularly in these difficult economic times. It is in keeping with our focus on healthy family living. Keep up the good work Larry and Duo!
Bill April 01, 2011 at 09:36 PM
This is a great community effort for one of the jewels in our town, The Surf Club. It is being funded primarily through donations, grants and funds already designated for use at the Strong Field site. The Harold Strong Fund money can legally only be used for Strong field, so what a great idea to use some of it to improve the facility. This has nothing to do with the Griswold purchase and the open fields there (which isproposed to have no stands, no baseball, just rectangular grass fields), or the declining student population. As long as Madison has football, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, rugby, summer theatre, symphony band and choral/VIBE group, etc., this new and improved Strong Center will be utilized and attended by more people in town than ever before!
John Brady April 02, 2011 at 08:45 PM
Congratulations to Larry and Duo and all of the people who have worked so hard to bring this important improvement to our town. As envisioned, it will be a long term benefit to people of all ages in Madison. A great example of a public/private partnership.
Ann Nyberg April 03, 2011 at 07:33 AM
This is not just a ball field for the town of Madison but will be a wonderful venue where all kinds of wonderful events can take place that will benefit all ages. This will also be a site for the arts as well as sports, and if you've taken a trip up there lately to look at its condition, you'll know the folks of Madison deserve better. I am thrilled that this volunteer board took this on to better the future of the town and those who will explore and move here because of it.
jim galinsky April 03, 2011 at 02:06 PM
NO SHORT CUTS! We only have one chance to do this correctly! The Surf Club and Strong Field are two gems not only of Madison but the entire shoreline. Based on the amount of private funds raised through contributions, there is a ton of support for the project. This is an investment in our towns future the will reap big returns for all residents. My biggest concern is that we do it right. We can't "cut corners" as we have done with many other projects in Madison, example Hand High School,gym and cafeteria/auditorium. Their should be extra capacity and plenty of seats available for all the arts & music events and especially for the big Thanksgiving Game. Lets take our time and get it right, so we can admire it for decades to come and not look at it with any bit of remorse.
Vince Principato April 04, 2011 at 05:40 AM
We need to sustain the recreational assets that make our town stand-out along the shoreline. But we also need to attract more tax paying businesses that will augment the tax burden of our graying population. Projects like this will attract families drawn to a town that's safe and oriented to their children. Projects that draw business, perhaps to enhance zoning laws that energize a new business park, will provide the necessary balance to keep our town afloat as the state and federal governments sort out their budget mess. Kudos for using the creative mix of public and private funds to make this project happen.

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