Rec. Board on the go

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 8:45am

From moving the location of the town’s Little League field, to installing an ATM machine at the Fred Benson Beach Pavilion for customer convenience, to possibly scheduling a walking tour for those residents and guests who might not be into biking, running or kayaking, the Recreation Department is on the move. 

The Recreation Board approved the Recreation Department’s budget for 2018/2019 at $418,987. The budget covers the cost of salaries and benefits for two fulltime employees, as well as camp counselors, managers at the Beach Pavilion, training, travel, equipment, and property maintenance at Heinz Field and Ball O’Brien Park, and expenses for such programs as sports leagues, the annual triathlon, half-marathon, and department supplies. 

The Board has been in a long-term debate about two issues: whether to change the date of the triathlon, which is scheduled in August, and to move the location of Little League games from Closter Field to Heinz Field. The concerns about keeping the games at Closter Field are that it is private property, there is a tree in the middle of the field, and that it is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The primary concern about moving to Heinz Field is that Little League games will often coincide with baseball practice, which raised safety issues. 

The triathlon is the Department’s biggest event of the year, and also its largest revenue producer. Board Chair Chris Willi said the time of the race has been changed (from mid-day to a 9 a.m. start time), and the course has been changed to accommodate concerns. 

There have been some questions raised as to why the event is held during what is already a busy time of year. 

“Every now and then there are grumblings for us to move it,” said Willi, especially the section of the race when bikes crowd onto Corn Neck Road.

Because the event is so successful — it brings up to 600 people to the Island — “There’s a little apprehension about changing the date,” Willi said to Town Manager Ed Roberge, who was in attendance.

“It brings in a lot of revenue, and not just to the Department, but to the Island,” said Recreation Department Director Dave Sniffen. 

“Have their been any accidents?” asked Board member Gail Heinz. 

“Not in the few years I’ve been here,” said Sniffen, who added there had been minor injuries such as road rash and things like that. He also sid that it was mandatory for participants to wear helmets. In the past there have been instances when athletes wore a helmet at the start of the race only to take it off once out of sight. Sniffen said anyone caught doing that now would be disqualified. 

The Board also discussed a proposal by a group called Ignite that wanted to do what is called a SwimRun race sometime in September. The Board members were a little alarmed about the proposed race course, which they called both “ambitious” and “scary.”

Sniffen said that participants would be paired up in two-person teams and swim and run certain distances around the island. 

Heinz asked if the town or the Recreation Department would be liable for any damages if someone was hurt during the race. No one knew the answer, but Willi said the town “would have to be held harmless.” Still, the idea would have to go before the Town Council for the final decision. 

“There has been no approval,” Sniffen told the Board. 

The Board also considered approving a new event for the Island, something called a Walking Festival, which is popular in Europe but not so much in the United States. The many Greenway trails on Block Island would be ideal for such as an event, the members noted, and there was general agreement that such an event could take place in the middle of June. 

Given that most of the events the Recreation Department sponsors require a more rigorous kind of athletic ability, Sniffen thought a walk would appeal to a different demographic. 

The Board also engaged in a discussion about the location of the Little League Field, reiterating the shortcomings and liability at Closter Field, and the benefits of moving the games to Heinz Field. It was not a decision the Board could make on its own, and so an informal poll yielded a 3-1 vote in favor of moving the games to the town’s current ball park at Heinz Field. Member Annie Hall was concerned about safety issues and voted nay, while member Emily Butcher said she did not have enough information to vote either way. 

The vote was intended to give Roberge an indication of how the Board felt so that he could make a final, more informed decision on the matter.

The Board was also pleased that an ATM machine would be installed at the Beach Pavilion for customer convenience. Sniffen said that rentals have suffered in the past because the on-duty staff can only take cash.