UPDATED: Skirmishes Over the Hamilton Ave School Field Continue after St Roch Feast

Update: Aug 18, 8:30pm: On Thursday the Board of Education released two photos of the Hamilton Avenue School field taken from a camera at the school. One was from Aug 8, which was before the St Roch Feast. The second, on Aug 15, was after the four day event. The photos were provided without comment.

As for the pile of soil in the photo taken Thursday around 7:00pm, it was ordered by the BOE so they’ll have it ready for whenever they can start repairs.

Photos provided from the Board of Education on Aug 18, 2022
Pile of soil adjacent to oil spill at Hamilton Ave School field. Aug 18, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yaer

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Original story, Aug 17: The four-day St. Roch Church feast came to a close on Saturday night, following four days of beautiful weather and a great turnout.

Just hours before the event was to start last Wednesday, the church’s insurance came through, including coverage for potential field damage, including to the geothermal wells.

For the past several years the church held its feast without use of the field, but its proponents noted that for 90+ years the event had been held on the field.

A note in the BOE file dating back to 2009 from then schools superintendent Betty Sternberg said under no circumstances should the field accommodate carnival rides.

Hamilton Avenue School field, photographed Monday, Aug 15, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager

“The presence of the system precludes the use of the field for any purpose other than standard physical education and recreation programs,” Sternberg wrote in 2009. “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.”

But when Paul Cappiali from the church’s feast committee reached out to engineers at Thornton Tomasetti, who installed the wells, for an opinion last spring, the founder wrote in a memo that the wells would not be harmed by carnival rides.

At a June BOE meeting Parks & Rec director Joe Siciliano advised against approving the use of the field for the carnival. He explained that the grass was still getting established after a $450,000 restoration and he was concerned about the wells. He also said he had concerns that parking trucks on the field could damage it or leak hydraulic fluid.

But, the decision was not Siciliano’s to make.

At the end of July 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. When the other two Democrats abstained the vote became a de facto approval.

Concerns expressed by the two Democrats voting against use of the field were that the board hadn’t obtained the expert opinion themselves.

They noted the board had been bombarded by 500+ emails concerning use of the field for the feast.

“Our job is to preserve our assets, and preserved our processes and worry about what precedents we’re setting for future groups,” said Democrat Christina Downey, who voted against approving the use of the field for the four day feast.

Hamilton Avenue School field, Aug 15, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager

After the Feast

Fast forward to this week.

The divisions over the use of the field persist.

A visit to the field on Monday revealed a brown spot marked “oil spill” and brown swirls on the field indicating where rides were and trucks had been parked.

After a request for comment the BOE and superintendent – with the Selectmen, town Risk Manager, and Parks & Rec Director copied – the superintendent responded through her Director of Communications, Jonathan Supranowitz, that there would be “no comment.”

Later on Monday, Paul Cappiali from the feast committee, said the town had previously scheduled an Aug 22 service of the field, including aeration and overseeding, and that the timing was ideal.

From there, the question became who authorized and scheduled the field service?

Reached phone on Tuesday, Parks & Rec director Joe Siciliano said that no one in his department had authorized the Aug 22 field service and that that date was too early anyway, as far as temperature and growing conditions.

A widely shared email to the Board of Education dated Tuesday from Sylvester Pecora Sr said that while St Roch had the best interests of the community at heart, there were “bad actors at work to disrupt the community event.”

“Although it should be and otherwise would be irrelevant, I am a register [sic] Democrat, and I am disgusted that these bad actors have chosen to politicize this by providing misinformation to Democrats and using these Democrats as weapons to spread their misinformation,” Pecora wrote.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Supranowitz said that there was no service scheduled for the field on Aug 22.

“The Parks & Recreation Department and our Facilities department are assessing the situation, and we will act accordingly once we get everyone’s input,” Supranowitz added. “Our athletic field surface contractors were at the field this morning and determined that the field is so compacted that we cannot do any service right now.”

Reached by phone on Wednesday evening Mr. Cappiali from the feast committee said that earlier in the day he and a reporter from a local newspaper were included on a call to the field service vendor, Athletic Field Services, out of Bridgeport, who said someone from the town had previously scheduled the service, but then canceled the appointment this week.

“He said Aug 22 was the best time to seed, and that if Greenwich canceled they had other customers who would take the slot,” Cappiali said.

Area on Hamilton Ave School field marked “oil spill.” Monday Aug 15, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager

As for the “oil spill,” Cappiali said he didn’t know where it had come from. He said he walked the field on Sunday the day after the final day of the feast with multiple people and no one saw a spill.

He said the spill would be abated by an environmental vendor approved by the Town of Greenwich on Thursday.

“The church will pay for it,” he added.

“Joe Siciliano wanted to charge the church $8,000 to overseed and aerate,” he added. “A board (BOE) member indicated it was already scheduled and there was no need for a charitable organization to be charged for something already scheduled.”

Cappiali said plant biologist Dr. Matthew Elmore from Rutgers University had advised that trampling the weeds would be ideal if overseeding took place soon after.

“He said the best thing you can do is trample these fields because the K-12 law related to field soils does not allow the use of pesticides or weed killers,” Cappiali said.

“St Roch will leave that field in better condition than we found it,” Cappiali said. “We’re on track to do that.”

“My priority is a good, nice green area for the people of Chickahominy,” he added. “It’s a historic thing. We keep Christ in it and we keep the history in it. We’re trying to preserve history.”

Stone wall along a tree well at Ham Ave School field. Aug 15, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
Stone wall along the tree well. Aug 9, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
Trailer by the bathrooms parked on the basketball court. Aug 9, 2022
Indentations left on the basketball court from a trailer parked there. Aug 15, 2022
Rides during set up, Aug 9. Photo: Leslie Yager
Rides during set up, Aug 9. Photo: Leslie Yager
Rides during set up, Aug 9. Photo: Leslie Yager

See also:

PHOTOS: St Roch Feast Draws Crowds for Carnival Rides, Games of Chance, Great Food and Socializing
Aug 14, 2022

BOE Motion Passes Despite Split Vote on St Roch Church Use of School Field for Carnival
July 28, 2022

Questions Rise Over Use of Hamilton Avenue School Field for St Roch’s Carnival June 22, 2022