Town of New Milford looks to develop new sports complex
NEW MILFORD — For years New Milford has talked about a sparkling, new, state-of-the-art sports complex where residents of all ages could kick, swing, score and run to their heart’s content.
The proposed complex would likely include multipurpose sports fields, baseball and softball fields, a BMX bike track, indoor
basketball and volleyball courts, and outside walking paths for older residents. The fields could be used by the town’s many youth recreational sports leagues, as well as adult leagues.
The current town skate park, playground and tennis courts at Young’s Field would stay put with some improvements. Existing baseball fields would also remain until new fields are ready for use, Mayor Pete Bass said, debunking misinformation spread on social media about the field’s future.
A project like this could run anywhere from $3 to $5 million, he estimated.
The idea was first brought up under former Mayor Patricia Murphy. At the time, a company that owned fields used by residents was considering expanding, and as such, eliminate the fields.
A town-owned sports complex would allow kids and adults to use sports fields without having to go through private land owners, town officials said.
Bass has already contacted Kimberly-Clark to discuss the possibility of purchasing part of the paper mill’s land on Route 7, which could potentially be used for the sports complex. However, the town would not use the old wood pulp disposal site for the complex, according to Bass.
“This has been something that’s been on the radar for many, many years,” Bass explained during a Town Council meeting Monday.
However, before deciding, the council wants to create a subcommittee to understand the economic and social effects of a new sports complex, and if it makes sense to build one in New Milford.
At Monday’s meeting, council members unanimously approved the creation of a temporary subcommittee, much like the one created for the high school turf fields, that will determine the practicality of a town sports complex.
The committee will likely have eight or nine members once formed, including residents and people with specific expertise in this area. Part of their task would be determining the total cost for the design and construction of a complex, and where the funding might come from, Bass said.
He added that the town has found subcommittees to be a “really good way” of determining viability of plans.
Several council members supported the plan during their meeting Monday.
“I think that having a spot like that is something that New Milford has asked about, thought about, talked about for a long time,” council member Katy Francis said to the other members. “It just is imperative that we have a proper place for children.”
Bass estimates that roughly 80 percent of the fields residents use are privately owned. If the land is sold or space condensed, the children are at risk of losing important recreational areas.
“We’re at the mercy of the private owners and so it would be nice to have a one-stop shop,” said council member Douglas Skelly, who has been a part of recreational sports in the past.
Condensing fields to one area would also create a community gathering spot and make parents’ lives a little easier.
“Parents wouldn’t have to go from one end of New Milford to the other end of New Milford because one child is playing in one division, and then the other division,” Bass said.
Additionally, a complex would provide a space to house the field equipment that the Parks and Recreation Department has to haul around town. The department has already discussed the possibility of including a storage area for large field mowers and other machines in plans for a complex.
“Every morning and every afternoon, we have to hook up a trailer and drive it across town whether its to Young’s Field or Helen Marx or Pickett District Field,” said Dan Calhoun, Parks and Recreation Department director. “It takes a lot of time out of your day.”
Living in the largest land-area town in the state, there’s a lot of ground the department has to cover, literally and metaphorically.
Calhoun said it was great to see the project continuing moving forward after so many years of discussions.
A new sports complex also ties into the town’s downtown revitalization project, which aims, in part, to create new recreational opportunities for residents and economically enhance the town.
The council discussed the revenue possibilities of a New Milford-based sports complex, including the fact that money could be generated from future tournament traffic and field rental fees.
Council member Mike Nahom voiced concerns about taking business away from privately-owned indoor sports facilities in the area.
“If you start competing with them, it becomes really hard for them, because rentals are a big part of their business,” Nahom said during the meeting.
Several members agreed with Nahom, including Bass, who said that the town did not want to hurt a private business. This concern would be one to consider before making a decision, he added.
“If we don’t take a step to start it, it will never happen,” said Francis in an interview Wednesday.
“We’ve grown enough and we’re still using some of the same sports places I used 50 years ago or more.”