Don't let the backhoe and construction teams at Little Compton's baseball field in the Commons fool you, the town's playing fields are in big trouble.
While a grant secured in 2007 is funding improvements to the areas surrounding the playing fields, Little Compton's Recreation, Conservation and Open Spaces Committee Chairman Patrick McHugh said the town's soccer, baseball and lacrosse fields are falling further into disrepair.
The fields do not drain properly, causing youths to play in unsafe soggy, drenched conditions. Caps from septic system impede soccer players on the field - causing falls, the fields are not level - making players more susceptible to injury, and the tennis courts have cracks wide enough to swallow a players foot.
"It's sad that this is an affluent town with such beautiful places and open spaces and his is what our kids are playing on," said McHugh. "We have forsaken the children."
The $80,000 state Department of Environmental Management grant that funded the 720-foot stone dust walking path, replaced fences, relocated the concession stand and installed drainage pipes and a retaining wall around the baseball field will not correct safety hazards or bring any of the town's three athletic fields at the Commons into compliance.
"It was a passive grant, so what can be funded are trails, paths and this work that's being done," said McHugh. The grant will not pay for any improvements to action-oriented infrastructure, like fields.
According to McHugh, the Peckham field, which will soon be the location of the temporary classroom pods for the Wilbur-McMahon School, could be drained and leveled at a cost of $250,000. However, given that the school is already paying to grade and rip up the turf to make it suitable for the pods, McHugh is proposing that the school district study the cost of finishing the job and making the field safe and compliant for Little Compton's youth athletes once the pods are removed next year. The school district would be required to re-fill the lot anyway, he said.
"We are hoping that after all the negotiations [the town] will realize that all they need to do is throw maybe another $100,000 at it and we are going to have a safe, compliant field," said McHugh.
McHugh doesn't know how much money the town could save by doubling these two projects, but he is adamant it needs to be done to provide a safe atmosphere for youth athletics.
"We're not trying to raise taxes," said McHugh. "My committee has a track record of using grants and donations to fund projects, but we need this corrected for the schools and for the kids."
McHugh found a 20 percent matching grant from the United States Tennis Association earlier this year to fund the $100,000 worth of work needed on the tennis courts, but cannot secure enough up-front funding to begin the project.
Although the work on the perimeter of the Commons baseball field will be completed in just over a week, the athletic complex is far from suitable for Little Compton's youth, said McHugh.
"The fight for this is for whether we are a town that supports families and children or whether we are a retirement and vacation town," said McHugh. "There is a lack of balance. If we cannot support schools and children, the I don't know where it's going to go."