Letter: First Selectman’s Update on Fred Wolf Park
I am writing to give an update on Fred Wolfe Park since I have heard a lot of misinformation being distributed by a few people.
The Town of Orange has needed a new community playground since the closing of the Mary L. Tracy playground during school hours. This has been a wish of mine and brought to me as a need by many parents and families. I began an evaluation of possible locations since the schools were all off limits during school hours and High Plains Community Center cannot be used during camp sessions and the many events that are held during the year. The open space areas were considered, but many hold development restrictions.
Fred Wolfe Park seemed like a perfect fit for a community family friendly playground. The property was measured out and the idea was brought to the Board of Selectmen to clear the property at the October 2, 2019 meeting, it was approved unanimously to clear 8+ acres for a barrier free playground, access road and future use at Fred Wolfe Park. In February of 2020 the Playground Committee was formed to start choosing the layout and equipment. This was going to be an extensive project and I agreed to handle the site work and prep for a beautiful new family friendly playground as approved by the Board of Selectmen, not just Jim Zeoli. The entire Board of Selectmen have voted and approved on each phase to develop this playground.
This property is owned by the 14,000 people who call Orange home. Fred Wolfe Park is not a single use property, it is just over 67 acres of both usable and unusable areas. The first area that was developed was for soccer, then lacrosse fields were added. These two programs are excellent for children and the playground is also for the children. Profound consideration has been given to this playground and safety measures planned to make sure it is done correctly including a separate parking area, sidewalk, and fencing. The original entry will be improved this year, and the second entrance is in development. The central hub of Fred Wolfe Park will continue to be Hollow and Oakview Roads, this made the best sense then and with limited access points to this property it continues to make sense today.
At the request of residents, The Fred Wolfe Park Ad Hoc Committee was appointed in December 2022. There has been a petition circulating under the name of the Orange Soccer Association that was started before this committee met for the first time. I have had residents tell me how they have been accosted by Mr. Pisano at the soccer field while trying to watch their children and grandchildren play their soccer game and that they must sign this petition. They have made claims that the Town chooses corn over kids, and you need to sign because that is how a state-of-the-art facility will be built. The Orange Soccer Association and Mr. Tom Pisano have personally exposed themselves to a defamation of character lawsuit from the Hine Family of Field View Farm and the Bespuda Family. These families have done nothing wrong by leasing farmland from the Town, yet Mr. Pisano continues to defame these families. The Hine’s Lease does not hold up any development of that portion of Fred Wolfe Park as there are no present plans or funding sources currently for that area. In April of 2021 it was unanimously approved by the Board of Selectmen to grade and seed the area directly across from the current soccer fields for new practice fields, this area is fully fenced and includes underground sprinklers for the fields. This area could easily accommodate the young children who play at Mary L. Tracy, but Mr. Pisano refuses to use this area and continues to call this area a dog park. Each morning as I have watched the playground construction, residents do bring their dogs in but not to run in the fenced in area but on the soccer fields.
The Ad Hoc committee is reviewing the current layout of the park and is in the middle of reviewing traffic and safety study proposals that were submitted. There are no plans until this committee completes their evaluation task. There have been many expansion ideas proposed to the committee including bathrooms, basketball courts, and pickleball courts to name a few. The committee meetings are open to the public and they have encouraged residents to submit their ideas. The Ad Hoc committee has also been working in conjunction with the Park and Recreation Commission regarding current uses by groups that use the park. The Orange Soccer Association, Amity Girls Youth Lacrosse, and Amity Youth Lacrosse were each invited to both committee meetings to give updates about the number of children participating in their programs and share their wants and needs. The Park and Rec Commission has also asked for insurance certificates and copies of their financial tax returns, which they should be providing yearly. The Park and Recreation Commission would like to get the organizations using Town fields to contribute “in-like-kind”. The Town mows all the fields, provides irrigation to the fields, and lines the fields, as well as emptying trash and recycling. Expansion is a great thing, but it does come with costs. The last filing seen for the Orange Soccer Association shows net assets or fund balances at the end of year to be $200,000. I ask why does a not for profit 501(c) carry such balances? Why is this money not spent on the children in the program?
I have received many calls asking when the playground will be open. The playground construction is almost complete, the safety pads will be added soon. There will not be a grand opening until the sidewalk and fencing are complete. I believe the playground grand opening will be in June and I look forward to seeing you all there!