O n a gray summer morning, several dozen Hartford residents made it clear that the most important thing about the new community athletic fields under construction is the word “community.”
Supervisor Dana Haff, Superintendent Thomas Abraham, other town officials and many residents, including children, were on the hill behind Hartford Central School as work began on a project that will add fields and alleviate the overcrowding the town’s youth leagues now experience.
“This will free everything up,” said Youth Commission member Chip Baker, who has two sons taking part in the sports the town offers. “Setting up the schedule is the hardest part of what we do. This will generate more time on the fields for practice and games.”
The school district bought the 5.46 acres from the Eastman Dairy Farm in 2006, but tight budgets have not allowed for expansion of the existing fields behind the school. The estimated cost for the fields topped $60,000.
The town board has allocated $10,000 to the project — $5,000 from the town’s general fund and $5,000 from the Youth Commission.
Haff said the town hopes to do the remainder of the work by using volunteers and donated services, and Abraham echoed that thought as he stood in front of a line of bulldozers at Saturday’s ceremony.
“Without the wonderful people of the town, none of this would have been possible,” Abraham said. “It took us three years to get to this point. The town and the schools worked together to solve each other’s problems.”
Ron Smith, the chairman of the Youth Commission, and Russell Wade, a committee member, are the project managers. Both are donating the use of their earth-moving equipment.
Haff pointed out that Russ Howard, a surveyor, donated his time to map out the wetlands on the site, and J. Euber Energy donated 100 gallons of diesel fuel.
The first job will be to even out the 20,000 cubic yards of dirt piled on the site. The dirt that was removed to build the current fields was piled on the new site.
Haff said the number and types of fields will hinge on how the field layout looks when it is done.
The Youth Commission currently uses the fields in front of the school and at other indoor and outdoor sites. It offers soccer, volleyball, cheerleading, basketball, baseball, golf, skiing and other activities to children in elementary school and has skiing, baseball, softball and basketball leagues for those in middle school and high school.
The legal agreement for the new fields will allow the Youth Commission to use the facility, as well as all other school-owned fields for 20 years. The school will have access to the new fields and will maintain them.
Crews were back out on the site Sunday. The town is paying for only one of the excavators, the biggest one. All other machines — two dozers, small excavator, a backhoe and a bucket tractor — are being donated for use.
Haff said if everything goes well, the fields will be flattened and seeded by the time school starts in September.