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Digging Into a New Era: Work Finally Begins on New Hartford Sports Complex

  • Louis Maxfield, fourth from left, wastes no time dipping his shovel into the sod during the Maxfield Sports Complex groundbreaking ceremony off Route 5 in Hartford yesterday. Maxfield is the primary donor of the land, on which the complex will be built. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Louis Maxfield, fourth from left, wastes no time dipping his shovel into the sod during the Maxfield Sports Complex groundbreaking ceremony off Route 5 in Hartford yesterday. Maxfield is the primary donor of the land, on which the complex will be built. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Louis Maxfield, center, talks with Hartford Selectboard members Chuck Wooster, left, and F. X. Flinn following a groundbreaking ceremony for the Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction yesterday. (Valley News - LIbby March)

    Louis Maxfield, center, talks with Hartford Selectboard members Chuck Wooster, left, and F. X. Flinn following a groundbreaking ceremony for the Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction yesterday. (Valley News - LIbby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Louis Maxfield, fourth from left, wastes no time dipping his shovel into the sod during the Maxfield Sports Complex groundbreaking ceremony off Route 5 in Hartford yesterday. Maxfield is the primary donor of the land, on which the complex will be built. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Louis Maxfield, center, talks with Hartford Selectboard members Chuck Wooster, left, and F. X. Flinn following a groundbreaking ceremony for the Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction yesterday. (Valley News - LIbby March)

White River Junction — The Maxfield Sports Complex has finally broken ground.

After nearly 20 years of community deliberations, design re-routing and permit processing for its 52-acre network of athletic and recreational facilities off of Route 5 South, project supporters celebrated the beginning of construction yesterday with a ground-breaking ceremony.

Building and structuring — to include a gravel walking and jogging path, tennis and basketball courts, varsity and youth baseball and softball fields, four all-purpose fields and three pavilions — begins today by Conway, N.H.-based construction company Alvin J. Coleman & Son.

Hartford Parks and Recreation Director Tad Nunez, town manager Hunter Rieseberg, property donor Louis Maxfield, Selectboard Chairman Chuck Wooster and company representative Calvin Coleman each spoke briefly to a gathering of about 30.

With an afternoon thunderstorm fast arriving, they stood in a row and lightly penetrated the grassy ground with gold-painted shovels just before the first drops fell.

“Great things take a lot of time and effort,” Rieseberg said to a gallery that included Hartford School District Superintendent Tom DeBalsi, Hartford High athletic director Joe James, two police officers and members of a Boy Scout troop. “If something is easy, it’s usually not that big of a deal. It took a huge number of years and a lot of continuous effort to get this done, but it’s going to be a tremendous benefit to the community for decades to come.”

Maxfield, now 85, previously used what had been 65 acres on the site to harvest corn and alfalfa plants, among other crops. He approached Nunez in 1994 with the idea of having it converted into a municipal golf course. The idea was eventually scrapped.

“We did an economic and marketing analysis and eventually determined that it wasn’t going to be feasible to run,” Nunez said. “We started thinking about what else we could do.”

A series of community meetings led to a consensus for a multipurpose athletic complex, and the sale of 17 acres of the land to the U.S. Army helped provide seed money.

The Selectboard voted unanimously in February 2010 in approval of a master plan for the complex, but the steps to start building it were just that — complex.

The permitting process dragged on. Before the town could receive an Act 250 permit covering all of the 52 acres from the state District Environmental Commission, it needed to obtain separate permits for wastewater disposal, storm water discharge, general construction and a wetlands permit, the latter proving to be the steepest hurdle.

“We didn’t realize the extent of (the land that qualifies as) wetlands,” Nunez said. “We had to re-configure the parking lot designs and work closely with the (Vermont Agency of Natural Resources) before we could go forward. The wetlands issue probably set the process back three years.”

No matter for Maxfield, who maintained confidence in the eventual realization of the project throughout the process.

“(Vermont-born U.S. President) Calvin Coolidge was a man of few words, but two of the things he talked about when he did speak were patience and perseverance,” Maxfield said to the audience. “I think it’s great that the Boy Scouts are here, because that’s what this project is about. It’s about the education and recreation of the young people, the future of our community.”

The project is valued at approximately $4.1 million, $3.1 million derived from a joint municipal bond with the Hartford School District approved in March. The rest, approximately $1 million, is left over from the 17-acre sale to the U.S. Army, Rieseberg said.

The rest of the $9.5 million bond will go toward improvements at the grounds surrounding Hartford High School and Hartford Middle School, including a track and artificial turf field, needed renovations to Wendell Barwood Municipal Arena and a new health and fitness center.

“The biggest thing this means for (Hartford High School) is that it affords us the opportunity to go forward with the track and turf field and know that our baseball and softball teams are going to have great new fields to play on,” he said.

Varsity lacrosse and soccer may also be held at the Maxfield Sports Complex, alternatively with the new turf field. Soccer currently uses the Quechee Green and Dothan Brook School for many contests, while the Hurricanes’ lacrosse teams use venues such as Ottauquechee Elementary School and Wilder’s Kilowatt Park.

Yet the primary beneficiaries of the new Maxfield fields may be youth baseball and soccer. With so many facilities at one site, more games and events can happen at one place concurrently.

“It’s going to be great to have a one-stop facility,” said James. “A lot of parents in town are probably used to dropping one kid off at one place, then driving to another spot to drop the other kid off. We’re going to see less of that now, once this is done.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.