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Case made for installing lights at EPCAL ballfields

Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton could be a destination for softball tournaments and other events. It could also double Riverhead Town’s revenues for the use of the fields there — if it only had lights.

So says Riverhead parks and recreation superintendent Ray Coyne, who gave a report on the condition of the town’s 42 parks during last Thursday’s Town Board work session. 

Mr. Coyne has been seeking — so far, unsuccessfully — to have lights installed at the ballfields at Veterans Memorial Park for some time. 

He also has advocated installing artificial turf fields on the multipurpose (soccer, lacrosse, football) field at Stotzky Park, which gets worn out due to excessive use and weather. 

The local men’s softball teams left the area as they lost the demand about five years ago and most men’s leagues play their games at night, Mr. Coyne said. The field at Stotzky — which has lights — was too small for those leagues, and the newly built fields at Calverton lacked lights, so games couldn’t be played at night, when most men’s softball leagues play, according to the superintendent.

“We would get a league if we ran it out in Calverton,” Mr. Coyne said. “If we were to add lights, we would definitely get a men’s league there.” 

The EPCAL softball fields first opened in 2014. 

Mr. Coyne estimates the cost of installing lights on the ballfields at between $800,000 and $1 million. He would also like to install lights in the parking lot at Veterans Memorial Park. Other high priority projects there include bathrooms to replace the portable toilets and adding clay at the ballfields, which have too much sand and too many rocks.

“When we build that out, with lights, it will be a huge attraction,” Mr. Coyne said in an interview. “We will attract all the men’s teams back, we would have the multipurpose synthetic turf fields on the eastern side and, in the middle, we would have tennis courts, basketball courts, pickleball courts, volleyball courts and we have the dog park there. We expect to attract a lot of people to the park. We want to run major tournaments in the town. It would be a great location for people to travel to here.”

A large field just east of the parking lot at the park is eyed as a multipurpose field with artificial turf, Mr. Coyne said. Currently, it’s too bumpy and uneven to play sports on it, he said. 

“We tried to turn it into a makeshift soccer field about four years ago, and there were so many divots and holes. It just didn’t work out. But the demand for soccer, the demand for flag football and lacrosse is so big here,” Mr. Coyne said. 

The town has one good multipurpose field at Stotzky Park, but that will have to be shut that down for repairs through June because it is so frequently used, he said. 

Mr. Coyne said “sports tourism” has become a big trend, wherein families book vacations around their children’s sports tournaments. 

“They spend all their vacation money going to these new complexes all over the country and watch their kids playing in these large tournaments,” Mr. Coyne said. “And one of the goals for Veterans Park is to be that type of destination.”

The town’s recreation advisory committee, which has been calling for lights at Veterans Memorial Park for years, would like the town to issue a bond to pay for various upgrades to the town parks, according to committee chair Brian Mills.

“There are a number of parks in dire need,” Mr. Mills said. “And we’re really missing out on an opportunity by not having lights out there.”

He said interest rates are low now and it’s a good time to bond. 

Mr. Mills did not give a specific number for the bond, but town engineer Drew Dillingham said it would cost about $10 million for improvements to the parks, and the town would need four buildings and grounds employees to maintain those parks. 

Councilwoman Catherine Kent said she supports the lights but added that she’d like advice from town finance administrator Bill Rothaar, because the town has other bonds as well, such as for the Town Square in downtown Riverhead. 

“It’s a perfect location for facilities like that,” she said. 

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, who is being opposed by Ms. Kent in her reelection bid, said, “There’s a request made; thank you for presenting to us.” 

She said it has to be a board decision.

“We will see where we stand financially,” she said.