After hearing the news that the Sag Harbor School District would not renew its contract to use the playing fields at Mashashimuet Park for its athletic teams, Diane Schiavoni decided she would do something about it.
Like just about everyone else these days, the 81-year-old grandmother of four (and great-grandmother of two) took to Facebook on June 12 to announce a fundraiser to replace the roof on the park’s old wooden grandstand. A donation of $150 would buy a bundle of shingles, but any amount would be welcome, she posted.
Mrs. Schiavoni, a lifelong resident of the village, who fondly remembers spending hours as a child playing in the park and attending summertime “park school” there, said she was concerned about the impact the loss of the $215,000 the school district pays the park each year for the use of its fields for baseball, softball, soccer, field hockey and other sports would have on its bottom line.
During a recent interview at her home, where she was joined by her husband Gabe, 83, Mrs. Schiavoni said she hoped to raise $50,000. Within a couple of days of posting her request for donations on Facebook, Mrs. Schiavoni said she had already received $700 in donations. “Nobody can say ‘no’ to me,” she said confidently. Nonetheless, she said it was important to keep the spotlight on the effort to assure its success.
Given the park’s popularity among residents of the village and its surrounding area, Mrs. Schiavoni said she believed her goal, while lofty, was attainable.
“We went to the park board meeting at 7 o’clock on a Wednesday night” to pitch the fundraising idea, she said. “He could hardly find a parking place.”
“There were over 100 cars in the parking lot,” Mr. Schiavoni interjected.
“I thought, ‘Isn’t this wonderful to see all these people here,’” Mrs. Schiavoni said. “The playground had kids all over it. We were just impressed by all the people who were there.”
“What I want to do is I want to call out all these guys who played baseball there, who went to park school, who played softball under the lights in the summer, the tennis people,” said Mr. Schiavoni. “The park really needs us. We need donations. Now it’s time to step up to the plate.”
He recalled an earlier time when volunteers from the community installed lights for the softball field and came together to complete other needed projects there.
Gregg Schiavoni is the vice president of the Park & Recreation Association of Sag Harbor, which owns the park, and the first cousin, once removed, of Mr. Schiavoni. He said the park board welcomed his relatives’ offer of help.
Unlike most parks, which are owned by a local municipality and obtain their funding through general tax revenues, Mashashimuet Park, which was the gift of Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, the village’s great benefactress, depends on the money it earns from the school district contract, revenue from a tennis program and special events, as well as private donations.
“It’s unique,” he said. “I can’t think of another setup like this for a park or school sports.”
Mr. Schiavoni, who recently ended his term as the park board’s president — he has been replaced by Janine Rayano — said the board is continuing to negotiate with the school district and hopes that a new arrangement can be worked out.
Among other things, the district has requested that restrooms be renovated, the chain-link backstop and fencing around the baseball field be replaced, that the fields be better maintained, and that restrooms under the grandstand, long pressed into service for storage, be returned to their original function. While the park board has agreed to some of the school district’s demands, the grandstand remains a sticking point.
The grandstand was built in the late 1800s, when the park was the site of horse and carriage races. Later, the road that passes between the grandstand and the baseball field was used for Sag Harbor Fire Department tournaments, and crowds filled the grandstand to cheer on their favorites.
Today, it obviously needs some tender loving care. Its dark green paint is faded and chipped, there are holes in the shingled roof, and the boards creak and sag each footstep. A handwritten sign taped to one corner warned of the presence of a yellow jacket nest.
“Outside of the roof, which needs to be replaced, and aside from a few boards and bricks, I think the structure itself is pretty solid,” Mr. Schiavoni said.
He said the park board was considering sponsoring a 5K run in the fall to raise funds to restore the grandstand, but that Mrs. Schiavoni’s effort would help kickstart the drive.
Donations for the grandstand can be sent to the Parks & Recreation Association of Sag Harbor at P.O. Box 1653, Sag Harbor, NY 11963.