BOE Dems Press for Conditions for Approval of Use of Hamilton Ave School for St Roch Church Feast: Not in Perpetuity, No Alcohol on School Property, Leave Field in Pre-Feast Condition

At Thursday’s BOE meeting Republican board member Karen Kowalski presented a motion to approve use of Hamilton Avenue School field, basketball court and parking deck for St Roch’s Church’s annual multi-day feast in August.

The event features carnival rides, food, games, and live music.

The feast is on both sides of St Roch Ave and includes a beer garden on church property and tables in the middle of the road, which is closed off at night. Food tents are across the street on school property.

The feast was established almost a century ago and always had use of the school field until the school underwent a major renovation around 2008 due to discovery of mold. For several years the church held the feast it on their own property, including the field at the corner of Stone Ave and Hamilton Ave.

Feast set up at sunset. August 2022

The use of the field for the feast became controversial last year after the director of Parks & Rec, who maintains the town’s fields, cautioned against it because the field had recently been renovated at a cost of about $460,000 and grass was still getting established.

Prior to the feast 18-wheeler trucks with rides and games drive over the parking deck and onto the field where they stay for about a week in total. When the Parks & Rec director recommended sparing the grass and said he was also worried about the new geothermal wells, the decision was kicked over to the BOE, where Democrats were reluctant to approve the use and Republicans were gung-ho.

BOE members received hundreds of emails from the community.

At the end of July 2022 the BOE voted to approve the church’s use of the field, but the vote was split down party lines. The four Republicans voted in favor. Two Democrats voted against and two abstained, a de facto approval.

At the time, Christina Downey said, “I’m concerned we’re setting a precedent for people who don’t like answers to questions to bombard us with emails…I feel it’s kind of like a gun put to our heads because there’s a carnival in a couple weeks and we have to make a decision.”

In 2022, the feast was great fun, though a ride broke down and a police responded after a fight broke out. The field itself was damaged and there was a small oil spill. The basketball court was also damaged.

The feast committee made good on repairing the field in the fall, and the basketball court was resurfaced in October, paid for by the non-profit organization Chickahominy Reunion Association, who raise funds primarily through an annual golf tournament.

Workers from Passerelli Landscapes, LLC at the Hamilton Avenue School field. Oct 1, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
Greenwich Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones, with Dave D’Andrea from the Chickahominy Reunion Association and Parks & Rec Director Joe Siciliano at Hamilton Avenue School’s recently resurfaced basketball court. Oct 17, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager

In her initial motion to approve use of the field by St Roch Church last week, BOE member Republican Karen Kowalski said the church would proactively work with the town Risk Manager 30 days in advance of the event and hire Greenwich Police for security, and “additional security subject to Greenwich Police Dept’s request.

But the motion made no mention of several conditions outlined in meeting materials the previous month, including a letter from the pastor saying the church had contracted with the security firm Dark Horse Protection.

Chair Republican Joe Kelly seconded the motion.

During discussion the Democrats asked about those conditions in the March draft partnership that Kowalski omitted in her motion.

Setting up for the feast on Hamilton Ave School field and basketball court. August 2022
Truck exiting Hamilton Avenue School parking deck with equipment after the feast, August 2022

Of note, Connecticut General Statutes, 10-220: Chapter 170 – Boards of Education ( talks about the duties of board of education, saying specifically that they “…shall have the care, maintenance and operation of buildings, lands, apparatus and other property used for school purposes…”

Protecting the Basketball Court and Timing Around Possible Parking Deck Repairs

“I was wondering what happened to them?” Democrat Karen Hirsh asked.

“One was make sure that the newly improved basketball court remain protected and free from damage during and after the event,” Hirsh said, adding she believed the church had donated funds to repair the basketball court.

The resurfacing was actually paid for by the non profit Chickahominy Reunion Association.

The basketball court was repaired in October 2022. The Chickahominy Reunion Association raises funds through events including an annual golf tournament. They also sponsor scholarships for Hamilton Ave School students.

Also, at Thursday’s BOE meeting there was no mention of donations from the church to the PTA that had been in the draft partnership agreement. Specifically it said the St. Roch Church and community partners would donate $15,000 Hamilton Ave School PTA.

Ms Hirsh said another condition in the draft partnership agreement last month referenced access points to the field ‘to be determined.’

Specifically the draft partnership in March said the church would “utilize property access points determined acceptable through coordination with GPS Facilities, understanding that a study of the Parking Deck condition is underway.”

The parking deck, which is level with the field and has a parking garage underneath, is being studied for needed repairs.

An email to Greenwich Free Press from to the district’s communications director last month outlined issues with the parking deck: “The perimeter caulk joints have pulled away, the concrete at the area drains on the upper deck has delaminated and failed, water pours thru open joints when it rains which causes the delamination and failure of steel reinforcement to accelerate.”

There was no discussion of what access points would be used for the 18-wheeler trucks bringing in carnival rides and games if the feast conflicts with repairs to the parking deck. Other than the parking deck access, the is only a paved pedestrian pathway from Hamilton Ave opposite Garden Catering and pathway from the narrow dead end of Charles Street.

Ms Kowalski explained why her motion lacked details.

“It’s not here, because the understanding is the church will leave the facilities in the same condition as when they entered them,” Kowalski replied to Ms Hirsh.

“And if there is any property damage, that is the purpose of the insurance,” she added.

“But that’s why you put it in the motion,” Hirsh said.

“We decided to modify the motion,” Kowalski said. “Given they have to have insurance…it would cover any damage to the field…”

Kowalski referred to the draft partnership as a memo of understanding.

“The MOU is not before us,” Kowalski said. “Having a MOU, trying to get that done at the speed with which this board sometimes moves, didn’t make sense…”

“The motion before us is simply to allow them to use the facilities as they did last year,” Kowalski said.

“To use them based on some details,” Hirsh said. “That’s why I’m wondering why those two were left out?”

Democrats Laura Kostin and Kathleen Stowe agreed. Christina Downey did not join the discussion.

Feast 2015. File photo

Alcoholic Beverages

Another condition listed in the draft partnership agreement on March 16 concerned alcoholic beverages.

Kathleen Stowe brought up the district’s policy against alcoholic beverages on school property.

“I think some blanket language around following all the policies and procedures of Greenwich Schools,” Stowe said. “For example, you can’t drink at our schools.”

Kowalski said someone might inadvertently bring an alcoholic beverage from the feast’s beer garden across the street and she didn’t want the feast committee to be “dinged,” for that violation.

“They do serve alcohol on their facilities and people do walk across,” Kowalski said. “I actually believe that there were board members that also got a beverage and walked across and had alcohol on the facilities.”

Tables and chairs in the street on St Roch Ave for patrons of the beer garden and food tents at St. Roch Feast, Aug 2022

Approval in Perpetuity?

Kowalski’s motion did not include the 2023 feast dates and Democrat Laura Kostin asked about including them.

The dates are August, 9-12th, but the feast requires access to the field several days in advance to set up.

Republican Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony pushed back saying he assumed the motion was to approve the feast every August in perpetuity.

“My understanding was that Parks & Rec won’t act without our authorization, we’re just saying we don’t have an issue with it…” he said.

“We cannot tie the hands of a future board. I would not vote for that, no way. I’ve been clear about that with the the Cappialis, Mr. Cappiali,” Kostin said referring to Paul Cappiali, who was in the audience with the church Pastor, Father MacIntosh.

Cathy Brunetti and Paul Cappiali at the tent selling raffle tickets. August 2022

“I don’t think we should be signing this in perpetuity,” Hirsh said. “PTAs have to apply every year to use our facilities for events.”

She said St Roch’s should be going through town processes anyway, not through the BOE for approval. “This shouldn’t consistently come to us,” Hirsh said.

“I don’t mind it coming back to us every year,” Joe Kelly said. “Because I get a free pizza fritta every time I bring it up at a board meeting.”

Making pizza fritta at the St Roch Feast.

Revised Motion

Kowalski agreed to amend her motion.

The final motion was:

“The Greenwich BOE recognizes the value of the St Roch annual fest for the Hamilton Avenue School Community. The Board hereby agrees that the St Roch Church is permitted to use the Hamilton Avenue School field property, field court, and parking facilities for its annual feast on August 9-12, 2023. The St. Roch Church shall 1) Seek and receive the event permit from Parks & Recreation; 2) proactively begin to work with TOG Risk Manager 30 days in advance of annual feast; retain or hire 3) retain or hire Greenwich Police Department for event security, and any additional security subject to GPD official request and 4) return the fields to their pre-feast condition and 5) agree to follow Greenwich Public Schools Policies.

Kolwalski’s final motion did not specifically mention protecting the basketball court, which might have been an oversight given it was part of the discussion.

“It wins 7-0-1,” Kowalski said.

Christina Downey abstained from the vote, not having said a word during discussion.

Irrigation System Gift Includes 5 Years of Maintenance and Cost of Water for 3 Years

A second motion was made by Ms Kowalski for the BOE to accept a donation of the immediate installation of an irrigation system from New England Total Landscaping for the Hamilton Avenue School field.

“Of course we appreciate a gift, but it’s like a child who gets a free house but they have to pay the taxes,” warned Kathleen Stowe. “We need to make sure we can pay the taxes.”

The motion was reworded during discussion.

The final motion was “for the BOE to accept the donation of the immediate installation of an irrigation system from New England Total Landscaping for the Hamilton Avenue School athletic field in order to take advantage of the full growth season, and a fully executed 5-year maintenance agreement for Let It Rain Irrigation to service the system, the cost of which New England Total Landscaping will cover subject to any necessary town permits and insurance as required by the town risk manager. In addition the cost of the water will be covered by a third party for 5 years.”

It was agreed that it was not necessary to state who the third party was because the amount of the gift was $3,000 a year.

After the vote, Ms Kowalski said, “It wins 8-0.”

“It’s not wins, it’s approves,'” Ms Hirsh said. “It’s not wins or loses. It’s ‘passes.”