A question will be before the Board of Education Wednesday night concerning a request from St Roch’s Church to use the recreation fields at Hamilton Avenue School for their feast.
The popular family-friendly event features carnival rides, games of chance, pizza fritta, live music and dancing, a beer garden and much more.
The question is tricky on a few levels. First, more than one department is involved. While the decision ultimately belongs to the Board of Education, the town’s Parks & Rec Dept maintains the school fields. The school district facilities department is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the geothermal system underneath the fields.
If it were one of the fields that Parks & Rec schedules and maintains for sports practices and games, it would be under their purview.
For decades St Roch’s Church did hold its carnival on both their church property on the south side of St Roch Ave and on Hamilton Ave School fields on the north side of St Roch Ave. They did so until Hamilton Avenue School was rebuilt. (The school was closed in 2005 due to problems with mold and reopened anew in 2009.)
After the new school reopened, there were issues with the field. Geothermal wells were installed and more recently $465,000 of work on the fields was completed by the BOE.
Once the work on the fields was completed in Aug 2021, Parks & Rec took over the field maintenance.
Parks & Rec director Joe Siciliano said on Wednesday that the decision was not his to make, but he would be reluctant to approve use of the fields for a carnival, in part because the fields are not fully established, but also to protect the geothermal wells, which were mentioned in a letter from former Greenwich Schools Superintendent Betty Sternberg to the town building official Bill Marr, dated Jan 15, 2009 that is part of the Wednesday night meeting packet.
Specifically Sternberg’s letter states that the school district facilities department is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the geothermal system underneath the fields.
“The presence of the system precludes the use of the field for any purpose other than standard physical education and recreation programs,” Sternberg wrote. “Under no circumstances can the fields be used for carnivals or other programs or activities which have the potential to compromise the geo-thermal system in any way.”
Siciliano emphasized that the field is still being established, and that in the past 11 months, Parks & Rec Fields Operations had completed three applications of organic fertilizer, aeration and overseeding.
“It’s a slow process to grow, and there is no irrigation system,” Siciliano said. “We rely on mother nature. The root system is still shallow and is only about 3-inches deep.”
Siciliano said that when the field was improved, clean fill was used. “That doesn’t always have the best composition to grow grass, but the state required that because children would play on it.”
The Parks & Rec director also said he had concerns that parking trucks on the field could damage it or leak hydraulic fluid.
On his part, Paul Cappiali, who is one of the organizers of the St. Roch’s Feast, disagreed.
He said that prior to construction of the new Hamilton Ave School, St Roch’s Church held its feast on the Hamilton Avenue School field for 91 years.
“They promised we’d have access again, but just not during construction,” he recalled. “Then we waited longer because there were lawsuits over the parking deck, and problems with the field.”
After all that, Cappiali said, “The church was told that we couldn’t access the field because of ‘sensitive geothermal wells.’”
“I was motivated to find out the truth,” he continued. “The last thing I want is to create a situation that could be un-safe, so I went to Thornton Tomasetti, the engineering firm who did the project, and they couldn’t figure why the geothermal wells would prohibit the use that we were seeking. They said that field was suitable to be utilized for the St. Roch Church annual carnival, which may include vehicle traffic, parking, free-standing amusement rides, and booths. There was no danger.”
Cappiali said he learned just how robustly built the geothermal wells were.
“The horizontal piping is made out of flexible tubing so they can move with the earth,” he said. “They’re made to be abused.”
“As for the wells,” he continued. “They are 5-inch to 6-inch diameter holes that that start 7 feet below grade and go down 93 feet. They are fused to the bedrock and backfilled with pressurized, thermally enhanced, bentonite grout.”
“They are safe for the use we seek and much more,” he said. “You can put the Bruckner Expressway on top of them and we’re just putting carnival rides.”
Thornton Tomasetti was the original engineering firm that designed the geo-thermal wells under the Hamilton Ave School and Morrison Geothermal Systems was the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) certified installer of the geothermal system.
Cappiali noted that Thornton Tomasetti and Morrison Geothermal Systems made a joint assessment, and cited the letter from Erich Baumgartner, P.E. Principal at Thornton Tomasetti Inc, which is part of Wednesday’s meeting materials, that states, “TT concludes that the grass field area above the well field is suitable to be utilized for the St. Roch Church annual carnival which may include vehicle traffic, parking, free-standing amusement rides, and booths.”
Wednesday’s BOE meeting is at 7:30 and is noticed on the schools website.
Notice is hereby given of a Special Meeting of the Greenwich Board of Education, to be held on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 at 7:30 p.m., via teleconference. Find details on accessing the meeting at GreenwichSchools.org/VirtualMeetings. The meeting can also be accessed by phone at: 646-558-8656 and entering Meeting ID 886 9680 2704.
The purpose of the Special Meeting is to possibly act upon new middle school elective: Junior Innovators, budget priorities and procedures, and to discuss Hamilton Avenue School Fields, and Central Middle School Educational Specifications.
The Agenda for the meeting in addition to relevant Board of Education documents are posted at GreenwichSchools.org/BoardDocs.