With just a week remaining until the official start of the fall sports season, the Sag Harbor School District and the Mashashimuet Park Board finally struck a deal that will keep the park as the home of Pierson athletics for the foreseeable future.
The parties agreed to terms that will have the district go out for a bond for a capital improvement project to fund significant improvements to the park facility. The details of the project have not been finalized yet, and will require voter approval. In the mean time, the district signed a one-year deal, paying the park $215,850 to keep the park as the home base for Pierson sports for the 2021-22 school year.
The deal is the culmination of negotiations that have been ongoing between the district and the park board throughout the summer. When the most recent contract expired in June, the district said it would not renew a deal with the park without provisions for significant improvements to be made to the fields and facilities, which have remained largely unchanged for decades. Agreeing on what needed to be improved and how to do it had become a sticking point in negotiations.
Meanwhile, parents continued to voice concerns publicly at school board meetings, saying certain aspects of the park facilities were in such disrepair they considered them a safety hazard. Other parents and students made it clear they did not want to have to be bused to facilities in other districts or towns to practice or play games, a scenario that would have become a reality if the district failed to reach an agreement with the park.
An 11th hour deal meant that unwelcome fate was avoided.
On Tuesday morning, the district released a copy of a non-binding term sheet that sets up the framework for the relationship going forward. Under those terms, once the new one-year deal expires, the district will enter into a long-term lease of at least 25 years with the park, with an eye toward making capital improvements, which would include rebuilding or replacing dugouts, fences, bathrooms, backstops and sheds; restoration of the historic grandstand; and revamping and rebuilding several of the athletic fields under the guidance of a design professional.
The park will continue to be responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the facility, and the completion of any capital improvements, although the parties would need to agree on standards of maintenance and care, and must agree annually on required maintenance costs. Terms of the long-term plan also stipulate the creation of a four-person oversight committee, which will include two board of education members and two park board members, tasked with meeting monthly to review and discuss capital improvements and maintenance, and they must submit to binding arbitration if an unresolvable dispute should arise. The term sheet also includes room for recourse if, for any reason, the capital improvement projects cannot be completed or the maintenance standards are not achieved.
“The students and the community of Sag Harbor have always been very lucky to have access to the park, due to [Margaret Olivia Slocum] Sage’s generosity,” Mr. Nichols said, referring to Ms. Sage, who purchased the park in 1908, with the intention of making it a space to benefit the children of the village. “This agreement provides an opportunity for future generations to play at the park, while ensuring that the facility is of good quality.”
Mashashimuet Park Board President Janine Rayono said on Tuesday that the board was glad it reached an agreement with the district.
“The park is very happy that we’ve come to a result that continues to have the athletes of the high school and middle school using the fields, because it has traditionally been their home,” she said. “Both the school and the park have worked very hard to put together a framework to agree on items that can be discussed in the next few months to put together a way to accomplish the improvements that will benefit the student-athletes and overcome any of the shortcomings we might have due to age and wear and tear. This is something we’re all enthusiastic about working toward.”
When asked what kind of reaction she was hearing early on from people in the community, Ms. Rayono said it has been good thus far.
“I think people are satisfied that their children and future generations will be able to have sports played at the park,” she said. “It’s a tradition that everybody wanted to continue, because this is something they’ve come to expect, and it would have been disappointing to the park as well if the relationship hadn’t continued.”