GREENWICH — Members of the Board of Education this month resurrected complaints about maintenance of school fields and field rental policies.
But when board members called for an updated agreement between the school district and town departments on upkeep and use of school fields, they thought they were talking about a 20-year-old arrangement. Turns out, the schools and Parks Department reached a new one two years ago, Interim Superintendent Ralph Mayo told board members recently.
“I don’t believe this board ever, or any board ever, saw this document,” Mayo said, distributing an agreement given to him by Director of Parks and Recreation Joe Siciliano.
The document was signed by Siciliano, Benjamin Branyan, the town administrator, Amy Siebert, the commissioner of public works, and James Hricay, former managing director of operations for Greenwich Public Schools who now works for the school district in Pelham, New York.
“We have an agreement in front of us that was never voted on by the board,” school board Chair Peter Bernstein said. “We need a refresh and an update.”
That could change upkeep and improvement procedures as the departments determine, for example, when and how the swampy Central Middle School fields should be updated, and who would bear responsibility for doing so.
Under the current agreement, whether two or 20 years old, Parks and Recreation maintains all fields on school properties. Students use them during the day and Greenwich Public Schools get priority for use of the fields after school. When they are available, the Parks Department rents the fields at Cos Cob School and Greenwich High School to town nonprofits and local recreation leagues for community sports. It also maintains playgrounds and buildings.
The school board used to have its own grounds maintenance staff, but in 1998, the Board of Estimate and Taxation recommended that the BOE consolidate its personnel with those of the departments of Parks and Recreation and Public Works.
At the time, Parks and Recreation lost 23 positions, including eight park gardeners and a tree trimmer, according to officials. But the number of people Parks and Recreation cut equals the number that the school board shifted to the department for maintenance of school board properties, Bernstein said.
When school board members first complained about the state of fields in November, Siciliano told them demand from sports groups to use the town’s fields had doubled in the past two decades. The director told Mayo 28,000 hours of permits were issued for the fields last year.
Maintenance of these fields does not match the volume of use, board members said.
If the fields are not usable when they are returned to the school district, the school board should not let Parks and Recreation use the fields, Bernstein said last week.
Board member Gaetane Francis said the agreement should allow for the school board to switch vendors or withhold payment if maintenance does not meet the board’s standards.
“How is it that we as the Board of Education can impress upon them or have some consequence if they’re not being well maintained?” she said. “That’s to me where the issue is.”
Siciliano could not be reached this week.
This debate extends back a few years, board member Peter Sherr said. Parks and Recreation added new turf at Western Middle School to the capital budget and spent money on preliminary engineering at Central Middle School, but refused to share that information with the school board, he said.
“This agreement needs to be updated,” he said. “It’s amazing to me this agreement exists and there are no measurements whatsoever that the other party is responsible to perform for the Board of Education in that agreement.”
The school board is not arguing to take back responsibility for maintaining the fields. Improvements to the fields at Central Middle School, which do not drain properly after rain storms and become unplayable, should come from the Parks and Recreation budget, as per the agreement, Bernstein said.
But the school board should have some control over how the fields are used and cared for, members said. The school board needs a list of school fields and tennis courts, including their maintenance schedules, as well as a record of income per field, board Secretary Barbara O’Neill said.
Members of the Parks Committee will rent out fields without any consideration for what might be going in a school building at that time or traffic issues, she said.
The Parks and Recreation Department sets fess, but O’Neill said she does not know how they set those fees without school board consultation.
“I understand they don’t get any money — it goes to the town — but if you’re providing ‘X’ number of dollars to the town, you have some basis for saying we need ‘X’ number of dollars for the field,” she said.
In the meantime, Bernstein told school officials to make sure staff keep putting in (maintenance) tickets about the conditions of the field.
“Do it. Constantly do it,” Bernstein said, “because if they don’t show up to do the work, it basically proves (our) point.”