Photo by Rebecca Bolan
By Meg O’Neil
Structural improvements to Toppa Field are expected to be complete in time for football season next fall.
According to City Manager Jane Howington, the city has received grants to repair the deteriorating sports complex through the state's Department of Environmental Management.
The news comes four months after School Committee member Rebecca Bolan brought photographs of the field’s conditions to the attention of the committee.
Howington told members of the Newport City Council and School Committee Liaison Subcommittee that an initial $165,000 grant will be matched by park capital improvement funds. Bids on the project will be closed on Jan. 16, and once the bid is awarded to a construction group, work on the field will begin promptly, she said.
Improvements to the field include the re-grading of sod on the two softball infields, the installation of a new LED scoreboard to replace the existing unit, which is over 30 years old and is supported by rotting wood. Upgrades to the field’s lighting system, repairs to the concrete stands, and the installation of sidewalks to the softball dugouts will also be made.
The work will be the first significant improvement to the field in decades.
Meanwhile, there appears to be little progress being made in discussions concerning sharing services between the school department and City Hall.
During the subcommittee's Tuesday meeting, School Committee member Robert Leary said that although it’s been a topic of discussion for the last several months, there hasn't been much movement toward combining services.
“This seems like an opportunity,” said Leary. “With the school’s director of maintenance retiring in a year or two, it makes sense to combine the office with the city’s and save $100,000 a year.”
Howington said that although progress seems slow, the city’s Director of Public Services Bill Riccio and school Director of Maintenance Paul Fagan have met to try to develop a plan. “From my understanding, the trigger for combining the two offices is once the Pell School opens and the school department turns the other elementary schools over to the city, and Fagan retires,” she said.
Bolan said that while she likes the idea of combining maintenance services, she worries that if the school department needed something done, the city might not see it on the same priority level. “We may lose some of that control,” she said.
Newport City Councilor Naomi Neville disagreed: “I think the fact that [Howington and Riccio] took comments seriously about the condition of Toppa Field shows the city does feel very responsible towards its fields,” she said. “I think what causes a delay is when the city says, ‘It’s not our job, it’s the school’s job,’ and the school side says, ‘It’s not our job, it’s the city’s job.’ That’s the back and forth where nothing gets done.”
If the two maintenance offices were to be combined, Howington said it’s unlikely that a school priority would be ignored by the city.
“The city has a lot of buildings that we support and maintain,” she said, “If we were to merge our maintenance facilities, and one of the schools had a leaky roof or no heat, I would think that the last thing we would do is drop that to a low priority. We’d have hundreds of angry parents on our doorstep.”
The liaison subcommittee will meet again on Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 11:30 a.m. in room 924 of the Newport Area Career & Technical Center at Rogers High School.