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Whitney could get new football field, track

Cary Ashby • Sep 14, 2019 at 4:00 PM

Two donors recently approached the Whitney Field Improvement Committee with a “substantial contribution” to replace the football field and track, Norwalk City Schools Superintendent George Fisk said. 

The Norwalk and St. Paul football teams play their home games at Whitney Field.

Fisk didn’t name the possible donors during a recent public meeting with school officials. During the discussion by the board, he said it’s possible the donations might not be available if there are no naming rights.

The Whitney Field Improvement Committee marketing team would like to see the athletic facility rebranded as the Warren C. Whitney Complex.

By naming it the Warren C. Whitney Complex, Fisk said it would “bring some history back” to the football field. In 1909, Norwalk City Schools purchased about 16.4 acres from Theodore Washburn for about $3,300. That property is now Whitney Field.

“He would be honored with a large sign,” Fisk said, referring to Whitney.

Corey Ream, the director of student operations, before Tuesday’s board meeting, said the proposed plan would be to replace the field after the current football season and then install a new track after it is used this school year.

“In an ideal world, the turf field and new track would be ready for the next school year,” Ream said, referring to 2020. “The first domino to fall is some (school) board discussion.

“At this point, no school funds will be used. School funds were used for the bleacher upgrades,” he added, noting the projects should be paid for via fundraising and donations.

Ream asked the board if rebranding Whitney Field was a “palatable solution” to the naming rights. He also said the contractors want to be recognized together since they consider themselves a community.

Board member John Lendrum expressed concerns about the legal ramifications of naming rights and donations. He said he wanted everything laid out as a plan so the donors, contractors and district know what to expect of each other. He also said he didn’t want a surprise bill in the future for the district to cover the rest of the project if a donation couldn’t be covered.

Fisk said he spoke to the district attorney who told him that if one of the donating businesses ceased to exist, “the naming rights would be lost.” The superintendent also said it’s possible the district won’t get the donations for the facility if there are no naming rights.

“I think we need to have a work session relatively soon,” said Lendrum, who wants marketing team members, the school attorney and, if possible, the potential donors, to attend. “I can’t see any way around it.”

Fisk said he doesn’t know what “the comfort level” would be for the donors since a work session for the school board would be a public meeting.

Ream estimated a new turf football — “with no bells and whistles” would cost about $600,000.

“It depends on what the research shows. We want to put in the safest field possible,” he said.

The price of the track depends on the extent of the damage to the base. Ream said officials won’t know that until the current surface comes off. He estimated the worst-case scenario for a new track would be $250,000.

“The field gets a lot of use,” Ream said.

In addition to the proposed Warren C. Whitney Complex rebranding, name recognition is planned for inside the facility. Fisk said he has spoken to a local mason who was expressed interesting in donating a sign. Echoing a statement he made to the board months ago, the superintendent said he wants the signage to look classy and not be a distraction.

Board member Steve Linder said it would be most efficient for everyone to sit down together instead of Fisk and Ream reporting back to the Whitney Field Improvement Committee and marketing team.

The school board has scheduled a work session for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the large-group instruction room in the Fisher-Titus Learning Center at Norwalk High School. According to the meeting notice, the purpose is to discuss the following subjects with “possible action” — stadium and facility improvements, personnel employment and property and liability insurance.

 

Brief history of Whitney Field

In 1909, Norwalk City Schools purchased about 16.4 acres from Theodore Washburn for about $3,300. That property is now Whitney Field.

Warren C. Whitney, who held a “responsible position” with the Chase Piano Co. in Norwalk, said he took an interest in the field and wanted to “assist in this worthy cause,” according to the book “Norwalk’s Public Schools: A Narrative History to June 1960.”

Whitney donated $500 and later added a $50 donation. According to the school history, he had several stipulations:

• 1: No Sunday games

• 2: If the YMCA was established in Norwalk, the organization wouldn’t be charged for using the field or at the very least, “nothing but a nominal sum”

• 3: There was to be “no undignified advertising” on the fence on the south side of the field facing East Main Street

• 4: Whitney didn’t want his donation to influence the naming rights

Source: “Norwalk’s Public Schools: A Narrative History to June 1960”

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