Lakeshore residents will have the opportunity to get a glimpse of their future neighbor – six softball and three soccer fields – at a meeting Tuesday at the Buttonwoods Community Center on West Shore Road.
Letters went out this week inviting residents living in the area, bounded by Warwick Pond on the east and Green Airport on the west, to view plans for the fields and meet with representatives from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC). The meeting starts at 6 p.m. and is expected to be over by 8.
The plans represent a significant step in what has been a drawn out and sometimes contentious process to relocate Winslow Park, which is currently on RIAC property at the end of the airport’s main runway. This time, it seems there is consensus, at least among the leagues, city officials and RIAC, about relocating to the other end of the main runway in Lakeshore.
“I’m pleased with the new plans, it replicates what we have,” Doyle Byrd of the Warwick Firefighters Soccer Club said yesterday. The club serves about 1,500 youths.
Byrd said league officials had two meetings with RIAC and city representatives, including Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson. Also in attendance were representatives from The Louis Berger Group, project consultants for RIAC.
Following the first meeting, where issues were raised over parking and the positioning of the fields, consultants returned with a revised plan that moved the parking from a central location between the softball and soccer fields to the airfield side of the site.
Byrd estimated there would be parking for about 180, which “would not be sufficient to support both clubs, if there was a perfect storm with regular and tournament play.”
Chuck McCaughey of Apponaug Girls Softball is happy to finally have a home for the league.
“We’re pretty happy about it,” he said. “This has been hanging over our heads a long time.”
City Planner William DePasquale said the development – the plan would be to finish the fields by the fall of 2014 but not to use them until the following year – has the potential of creating a “premier facility.” In response to community feedback, he is looking to incorporate a walking or jogging trail that could be used by area residents.
“It would make for a nice opportunity for neighbors,” he said, and noted the trail could serve as a “buffer area” to the playing fields.
Of concern to DePasquale is traffic flow into the area and measures to discourage people from parking in the Lakeshore neighborhood instead of accessing the site from the existing airport maintenance road and a newly designed intersection with Airport Road. He said he hasn’t seen a plan for the intersection and how the road would connect to the site.
Interim RIAC CEO Peter Frazier said the intersection and access hasn’t been designed yet, but the idea is to make it so efficient and easy that league parents and spectators would prefer it to parking in the neighborhood.
Frazier said the purpose of Tuesday’s meeting is to lay out the design concept and “to let residents know what we are doing.” He said special consideration is being given to moderating traffic, saving existing trees and reducing noise in the neighborhood with new plantings.
Under the agreement with the City Council, whereby the council dropped its appeal of a runway extension, RIAC agreed to replicate the existing league facilities. This includes a concession stand and restrooms for Apponaug Girls Softball, but no similar facilities for the soccer league since they had none. Space is set aside for the future development of those amenities and Byrd said the league is considering whether those could be built at their expense at the same time as the fields.
“We would be able to get rid of the porta-johns,” he said.
Frazier said RIAC would work with the league, as there could be savings if concessions and restrooms were built at the same time as the fields.
As for the cost of the overall project, Frazier said he is hopeful that it will come in close to the $3.5 million estimate.
“We’re doing everything possible to make it as affordable as possible,” he said.
What happens if the bids exceed the initial estimates?
Frazier said that’s not going to really matter.
“We have a firm obligation to proceed,” he said.