Before COVID-19 hit, gymnasium and field space was a hot commodity in Cheshire, especially for youth programs.
When the current lockdown restrictions are lifted, it is likely some of the first places to get crowded again will be the local fields.
At the April 21 budget workshop meeting, Parks and Recreation Director, John Gawlak, announced his plans to potentially increase the rental fees for the commercial use of the fields and facilities.
“We’re renting out our fields to places like Hamden and Wallingford because our prices are so cheap, but I gotta tell you … we’re leaving money on the table here,” said Gawlak.
Currently, the Parks Department charges only $25 per hour to rent the fields, which is significantly less than what surrounding towns charge, and Gawlak would like to close that gap. While Gawlak didn’t specifically mention a change to open gym space fees, he did bring up the issue of finding building supervisors and training his current staff to help with that burden.
Gawlak’s request comes after much debate has already taken place regarding the fees for the local fields and facilities. Over the last year, groups such as the Cheshire Travel Basketball team and the Cheshire Junior Cheerleaders have been asking town officials to work with them in order to make the search and scheduling for practice space easier, more effective, and cheaper for the families involved.
Back in February, Vincent Masciana, the chief operations officer for the Cheshire School District, gave an update at Board of Education meeting as to how discussions were going regarding facilities fees.
“We have been meeting with the representatives from Parks and Rec, Public Works, the Town and Cheshire Public Schools staff,” he commented. “The biggest factor here is that there is more demand than space and time available, not only for buildings, but also for school and town fields. We have been coordinating for spring use for fields and summer work that might affect the Park and Rec programs. There is also a need for appropriate staff training for Parks and Rec staff that monitor or supervise activities in our buildings.”
In recent years, enrollment in some youth sports, such as Travel Basketball and Junior Cheer, has declined due to lack of adequate practice time and an increase in enrollment fees, according to the leadership of both teams. Some families who are looking to put their children into youth sports have even chosen to register in neighboring towns like Hamden or Wallingford, which may offer a better overall experience, according to the head of Cheshire Travel Basketball, Krista Hayes.
Masicana mentioned how he was working with the Cheshire Junior Cheerleaders to find them an alternate space to practice other than the Dodd gymnasium, which is the only place that has enough room to hold their practice mats now. Masciana has been looking at requests from Cheshire Travel Basketball and the YMCA for alternate staffing options as well.
Cheshire Board of Education Chair Tony Perugini sees the talks Masciana has been holding as a progressive step to supporting the local youth groups.
“Thank you for taking the initiative with this issue,” he complimented Masciana. “I think this is a really progressive step, and I hope we can come to an agreement soon with the concerning parties.”
While no final decisions have been made regarding facility or field fees, Gawlak made it clear to the Council that he would like to discuss this issue at length with them in order to fully flesh out his plan.