SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Members of the recreation commission expressed disappointment on Monday night over the latest plans for the high school relocation design at Curtis Corner, stating that it was hardly an improvement from the last iteration.
Last week, Director of Leisure Services Chair Terry Murphy, Parks Superintendent Rex Eberly and Recreation Commission Chair David Palazzetti met with the project manager and architect to discuss the latest revisions to the site plan.
“Once they showed the revised site plan, it was evident there was still a loss of recreation facilities – pretty much equivalent to what was in the original site plan,” Murphy said. “Instead of a parking lot on the small athletic field, it was the tennis courts.”
“It still leaves us with a net loss of space,” she added, while also noting that this move would still impact the disc golf course.
Although an alternative plan was shared with the school building committee the following evening which proposed moving the tennis courts into the parking lot of South Road School, recreation members pointed out various other issues with the plan.
“It was presented to us that no one was going to be happy with the plan, that there were concessions that needed to be made by the parks department and concessions that needed to be made by the school department,” Palazzetti told his fellow commission members.
In the plans presented, the only thing that was going to change, he said, was that bus parking lot on the side of the school being turned into a lot for student parking, thus removing the need for paving a parking lot on one of the smaller fields,
“They eliminated the parking lot on the South Road small playing field [but] they immediately dropped the tennis courts right in that same location,” Palazzetti said.
He also took issue with recreational parking spaces potentially being overtaken by students commuting to school, which could make it impossible for community members at large to enjoy the fields and walking trails when classes are in session. By taking away a parking lot on that recreational field, Palazzetti said he doubted there would be enough spots for everyone.
“It more or less mirrors what they have at Columbia Street, with a little more parking overall,” he said.
A walkthrough of the site also revealed that the school addition is also being placed over the town’s irrigation well for the playing fields. If plans move forward as is, Palazzetti said that the cost of connecting to town water or digging a new well needed to be added into the project cost.
Connecting into the town water would be an added, costly operations expense for the department moving forward, though, he noted.
“At the end of the day, there were really no concessions made by the school department,” Palazzetti said. “All of the concessions were made by the parks department. We lost our small field, we lost 50 of our 70 parking spaces, we lost our well and we have a road through the disc golf course.”
“I was a little upset that they basically took the original site plan, made no changes to it, and presented it as a brand new plan when all they did was move a parking lot and replace it with tennis courts,” he added.
Some changes to the parking saved two disc golf holes, but there likely won’t be enough space for disc golf players and mid-morning dog walkers to park now that juniors will be parked on campus and not by Old Mountain Field, according to Palazzetti.
In the end, Murphy said they weren’t any closer to preserving the facilities meant for everyone than they were with the first site designs.
“I think what really bothered me was we had to beg and beg and beg, just to get allowed to have a discussion with the school building committee and the architects,” Palazzetti said. “And I thought we were making progress. They let us at the table, we had a discussion.”
At this point, it feels like smoke and mirrors to Palazzetti, and that the commission has been completely ignored.
“They could make this a great site for the community, and I told them during the meeting that I support making this a nice campus with the school,” Palazzetti said. “But all they’re doing is dropping a school there and they’re going to end up ruining a park. They’re not going to make it a nice community resource.”
“They’re going to ruin one site to make another slightly better,” he added.
Recreation Vice Chair John Biafore, who has become an avid disc golf course user at the site, echoed these comments.
“That park system at Curtis Corner is basically being sacrificed for this school project,” Biafore said. “My assumption is that most people believe that the benefit of moving the high school to Curtis Corner is the park system that’s there, and to create a campus-like setting.”
“Really, there’s not going to be much of the park left, and I think it’s important that people realize that,” he said. “I just feel it’s too big of a sacrifice and sort of undermines the entire point of the project.”
When Recreation Treasurer Will Litvin asked about options moving forward, Murphy made the suggestion to keep running this issue by the town council — especially since two town council members sit on the school building committee.
“It’s hurting the school department just as much by eliminating some of these facilities,” Murphy said. “They think they’re going to have a campus, and it’s really not going to be a campus at all. They’re still in the same boat of shifting sports around to different locations.”
In the long run, it could end up costing the taxpayers even more money, according to Recreation Commission Secretary Joanne Blessing, since the district will still need to bus students all over town to different playfields.
“From a field’s standpoint, for both recreation and school sports, we’re going to end up with a net loss,” Biafore said. “I think that’s important to realize because part of the goal for moving the high school there was so we could stop bussing kids around.”
“Now we’re going to have to do that with even more sports,” he added.