GAF: Cardinal Stadium is the Heart of Our Community

Cardinal Stadium holds a special place in the hearts of those who live in Greenwich. It’s a place where kids can grow athletically, and it’s the last scene in the chapter of a Greenwich High School career at graduation.

The Stadium has been a hot topic around town, as improvements and renovations are needed. One particular group, the Greenwich Athletic Foundation (GAF), has long been a supporter of seeing such changes.

The GAF is a 501c(3) organization which works in cooperation with various town departments to improve, maintain and support Greenwich’s athletic infrastructure.

Beginning in 2016, the GAF became involved as the Greenwich Board of Education (BOE) looked to come up with a plan and feasibility study on the Stadium. In 2018, the GAF offered to raise private funds to try and help put an improvement plan together.

But since then, said GAF board member Rick Kral, the phased project to improve Cardinal Stadium has taken a few twists and turns, and it has now stalled.

The Municipal Improvement for the bleachers and special permit and site plan for Phase 1 went before the Planning & Zoning Commission on May 19. The Commission said they want to take a look at the project in its entirety, and left the matter open.

The bleachers, which were shored up by the GAF through last December after they were deemed unsafe and in violation of safety code, can still be used if sports come back in the fall and proper inspections take place.

All throughout the planning process, the GAF has suggested that the BOE put together a building committee, similar to what’s been done with other projects over the years, to oversee with local knowledge and expertise to make sure plans stay streamlined and on track.

The BOE is not required to establish such a group because no state aid is involved, but to date a committee has not been formed, which Kral called “disappointing.” He added that the BOE and GAF “would be in a different place today than we are without a doubt.”

GAF President, Rob Burton Jr., believes a building committee would benefit everyone involved.

“We’d like to have the building committee to shepherd us through this process. It’s not a GAF project, but I think we have some resources and some wherewithal to help out the community and get this thing done,” he said.

Mike Jedlicka, a GAF member and a builder in town, said the BOE should establish a building committee so they can focus on other issues.

“I want our Board of Education, especially in today’s environment, focused on distanced learning, how we’re going to handle bussing going forward, post-COVID issues, and how we’re going to get our teachers and everyone on the same page so our kids can have a good learning environment,” he said. “They should not be bothered about where a light pole has to be in relation to an elevator shaft in the Stadium. That’s not what the Board of Education should be focused on. They’re not builders.”

The GAF believes that the plan to fix Cardinal Stadium has morphed into a much larger project than originally conceived, which now involves constructing an access road from the rear school parking lot to the Post Road as another form of egress to take some load off of Hillside Road. Kral said the BOE has gotten “diverted” from the original plan of fixing the Stadium.

Burton acknowledged that something needs to be done to address the traffic and safety issues on Hillside Road. He added that there are pros and cons, and neighborhood challenges the community needs to be mindful of with residents not only Hillside Road, but on nearby Overlook Drive and other side streets.

Burton wants the Cardinal Stadium project hashed out in a way that addresses the community’s needs, while keeping in mind a new economic environment in a post-COVID world.

“I quite honestly think we should take our time, do it right and not have a fractured process which is sort of what is being proposed, and do it in a way that sort of addresses the community’s needs, which are several here, including a stadium that meets today’s standards in terms of ADA compliance, a bathroom, running water out there that could address the student athletes and also the fans,” Burton said. “I’d like to do it the right way and not do a rushed project just because it’s on top of people’s minds. Let’s do it the right way.”

In the application from the May 19 Planning & Zoning meeting, Phase 1 included replacement of the home side bleachers and press box with elevator access; construction of buildings under the bleachers to provide a home team room; public toilet rooms and support spaces.

Site improvements included upgrading the access drive to the bleacher area for delivery, food trucks, emergency access, an improved driveway from the Post Road to a new parking area that contains all of the required handicapped parking spaces; a new ticket kiosk and replacement of the performance lighting fixtures on the current poles.

Phase 2 included the replacement of the visitor’s side bleachers; a new building for a visitor’s team room; public toilets and storage; relocation of the tennis courts; extension of the driveway to connect with the High School parking lots via a bridge; additional parking, a practice field area; and related wetlands mitigation and landscaping.

“There are components of phase 1 that also are relying on phase 2 to make everything work,” Kral said.

“In 2016, there was a survey done and it was recommended that we redo the Stadium. It didn’t say anything about a road, it didn’t say anything about an access way. The edict in 2016 was to rebuild Cardinal Stadium; not do half of it, not do part of it, not tie the second half of it to another project that you’d like to have done,” Jedlicka added. “We can get behind trying to support that, too, but I know for a fact the ins and outs that are going to be involved with moving tennis courts closer to the wetlands, that is a major local and state issue.”

The GAF wants to see the Stadium components taken care of at the same time in Phase 1, rather than split up.

Because of how the process had gone and the feeling that there was no direction, the GAF felt it would take substantially longer to complete the project.

As a result, they recently decided to rescind their offer of raising private funds.

“[We had concerns] with the BOE not following some of the recommendations we were trying to make as a partner group. The project was not really following the town’s process of putting together the Municipal Improvement and going through the application process the way we felt was most efficient and beneficial to the project and to the users that were looking forward to getting the Stadium done in the short term,” Kral said.

Jedlicka said the project was being rushed because the BOE had requested an MI and special permit and site plan at the same meeting last month.

Fundraising would have been a challenge, according to Burton.

“We’d love to have a clear message from the town on how they would like us to help them out. We’ve offered to fundraise on their behalf, but we have not been shown a path to do so. We’ve asked what the town’s policy is on naming rights, on selling bricks. So far to date we have not gotten a response from the BOE on how we can go about raising money. Until that’s laid out, it’s tough for us to raise money when we’re not sort of given a path forward on how to raise it.”

The GAF would get involved in the future if need be.

Burton continued, “I want to see this thing addressed, and we stand willing and ready to help them raise money for it once things become clearer.”

Burton and Jedlicka grew up in town and were teammates on the GHS football team in the early 1990’s. Both have kids in the Greenwich Public School System, and said Cardinal Stadium is special to them.

“To see it in its current state is mind boggling given the resources we have in this town. To have it fall apart and not being addressed for years is something that’s shameful in my mind,” Burton said. “Every kid who goes through that school is going to have their day in the sun there and be recognized in front of their peers and family and in front of their community [at graduation], and to have it in that sort of state right now is embarrassing.”

Jedlicka has two children at GHS, and one at Eastern Middle School.

“I would like for them to enjoy an improved, proper facility like we see throughout Fairfield County, and I’d like my grandkids to grow up here. That would be a dream, but it’s not going to happen if this is not addressed properly,” Jedlicka continued.

“We have one opportunity I feel to do the project right, and that time is now.”