By Paul Augeri
The tennis courts on Wesleyan University’s campus and at the Pat Kidney Sports Complex have gone unused in the three months since the coronavirus outbreak, but that will change Monday when the city reopens the nearly two dozen spaces to the public.
As the state draws closer to enacting phase two of its reopening plan in late June, the news was not good for Middletown residents who like to use the pool at Veterans Park — it will not be opened for the season.
Meanwhile, no determination has been made for when the city would greenlight access to fields and playgrounds, Mayor Ben Florsheim said Wednesday.
“In talking about events and use in general, there has been a lot of uncertainty about exactly what’s going on,” Florsheim said during a call with officials representing the health department, public works and the Common Council. “We want to make sure people know what is opening up and that these decisions are being made on a rolling, case-by-case basis. Some of these come from the state and some come from the municipality.”
While city parks are open with social distancing rules in place, playgrounds and basketball courts still remain off limits, the mayor said. The trail at the Pat Kidney complex remains popular with walkers and joggers, many of them wearing masks. The softball and baseball diamonds are regularly maintained, but otherwise haven’t seen game play since November.
“I commend the community for following the guidelines with our parks and playgrounds,” Council Majority Leader Gene Nocera said. “Our upgrades to our fields — particularly Palmer Field and Pat Kidney — we’ve invested a lot of money and I know people would love that we allow them for use. But we have to be very careful with our plan, like the rest of the country, that we’re doing this responsibly. Hopefully we can come up with a plan that’s put in use before the end of summer.”
Palmer Field also is ready for games, public works director Bill Russo said. The city spent nearly $800,000 on seven new LED light towers that were installed over the winter and was eager to test them ahead of the high school and American Legion seasons. Both were canceled earlier this month.
“Nobody but our workers have been on the fields,” Russo said.
Nocera said city officials have heard from residents unhappy that they have had to drive to neighboring towns to play on public courts that have long been open.
“We are thrilled that we’re now going to open up our tennis courts,” he said.
The city remains aligned with the public health guidelines coming from Gov. Ned Lamont’s task force for reopening the state. Lamont on Wednesday unveiled a “Roadmap for Reopening” which contained more information for second-phase implementation on or about June 20. The plan included “selected youth sports” but did not offer specifics.
In Middletown, “for baseball and general field use for the summer, there won’t be anything official until it’s official,” Florsheim said, “(like) the criteria we will be using and what types of sports and outdoor events can be done while maintaining proper social distancing.”
Also Wednesday, the state said that phase three, with a tentative start around July 20, would permit outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people if health projections are met. The criteria then could compel Middletown officials to open playgrounds and fields.
“I want to see a baseball game at Palmer or a softball game at Pat Kidney as much as anyone,” Russo, who is briefed daily by the city’s health department, said. “I want to see the kids playing basketball and kids on a playscape, so it’s frustrating to tell them no, they can’t do it yet. The uncertainty is the hardest part of this.”
Russo also stressed the need for towns to open their facilities at the same time.
“We can’t be the one town that just opens up, because we would just get overwhelmed,” he said. “If we opened the playscapes and other towns don’t, we’d see droves of people here. I believe we have to coordinate with everybody to open up to maintain capacity. If we are the only show around for 30 miles, forget about it, we’ll run into trouble here in town.”
In a scenario where fields and playgrounds are some day opened to the public, Florsheim said social distancing and adhering to health guidelines would be paramount.
“To some extent, these would have to be self-policed situations, and we would work with the health department on rules and time limits,” the mayor said. “And if people are not following the law and the rules appropriately, ‘here’s a number you should contact.’ We know we can’t staff our facilities 24/7, but we are going to make the rules very clear. Everyone has to practice common sense.”
In other recreation-related developments:
**The Recreation and Community Services Department is actively planning for and preparing itinerary for summer recreation camps at Farm Hill, Snow and Moody schools and Crystal Lake, director Cathy Lechowicz said. Activities offered will be modified according to state health regulations.
“We believe camps are a really important resource for the community, and especially now to support families where a parent may have to leave the home and go back to work,” Lechowicz said. “We want to ensure that families who need the care, get the care, and we’re happy to provide that service. We’re excited to be able to do it, even though it will be challenging. It will be good for the kids to maintain a sense of normalcy and stay exposed to their peers.”
Camp specifics can be found on the city’s website under the recreation department’s link.
**A celebration at Crystal Lake to mark the addition of a playscape, new restroom facilities and a picnic pavilion area with new grills remains scheduled for June 28. The lake has been open daily for recreation. Once renovations are completed, swimming will be allowed.
“Everybody out there is respecting the social distancing,” Russo said. “I see mask protection. People are listening and people are trying.”
The building beside the pavilion area has other facilities that can serve, in a normal summer upwards of 400 summer campers, Russo said.
**Palmer Field would have hosted CIAC baseball semifinal and state championship games next week. The CIAC canceled the entirety of the spring sports season two weeks ago after the state announced that schools would remain shut for the remainder of the year. Over the winter, the city installed new light towers at Palmer Field at a cost of nearly $800,000.
**Plans are in the works for a summer baseball alternative to American Legion. Teams from Middletown and Cromwell are earmarked to play under the banner of the Connecticut Elite Baseball Association, an unaffiliated stopgap league formed after the state legion pulled its sponsorship of baseball for 2020.
*Malloves Jewelers has not determined whether it will sponsor a team again in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League, owner Marc Levin said Wednesday. The league, which has been in existence since 1929, has yet to decide if it feasible to play this summer.
*The Ahern-Whalen Intermediate Baseball League, for players ages 13 to 18 from Middletown and surrounding towns, canceled its season earlier this month. The league would have celebrated its 71st season this summer.
**The Citizens Bank 5K run on Main Street, originally scheduled in July, has been tentatively postponed until Nov. 22.