Plumb Hill Playing Fields…
A Dream Becomes a Reality.
The new fields and track at Plumb Hill Playing Fields are the realization of the vision and generosity of the late Sunny Seherr-Thoss and the Seherr-Thoss Foundations. Sunny wanted to make this gift to the children of Litchfield anonymously. After her death in June 2006, her family consented to our request to publicly acknowledge Sunny’s incredible gift to the Litchfield Community.
The following is a history of the Plumb Hill Playing Fields Sports Facility….
HISTORY OF THE PLUMB HILL PLAYING FIELDS
In November 2003 Sunny Seherr-Thoss shared with me a new project she had in mind. Sunny had been thinking for some time of helping create playing fields and a track for the children of Litchfield.
For several years the Town Building Committee had proposed plans to renovate or build a new High School and renovate the existing Intermediate School. Early proposals had called for new playing fields and a track. However, due to the high estimated construction costs and several failed town referendums, the Building Committee removed the field and track improvements from the final school renovation project.
Sunny had been working with A.J. Towne of Towne & Aurell, a local Excavating Contractor, and Ed Fabbri, a local engineer and community volunteer to design a sports complex to add several new sports fields and an eight lane running track to be built on the public school campus. Sunny believed organized sports for youngsters at the middle and high school level was very positive for their development.
Sunny asked if I would assist her by establishing a method for her to donate anonymously and provide a means by which she would be assured that her gift would be maintained properly. Sunny had seen other towns build sports facilities and then fail to properly maintain them. She wanted some assurance the Town would maintain the gift she was willing to make.
I suggested that I initially approach the Superintendent of Schools, John Tindall Gibson, and the First Selectman, Leo Paul, to discuss the gift and gauge their interest. Both the Superintendent and First Selectman heartily endorsed the concept. I then met with school officials, town officials, the school building committee, and White Memorial, the abutting land owner, to request support for the project. The support was unanimous.
As a result of the positive feedback, I advised Sunny that we should create a tax exempt entity as a supporting organization to the Litchfield public schools to receive her donations anonymously.
We formed a Connecticut, not for profit nonstock corporation named “Plumb Hill Playing Fields, Inc.” (hereinafter PHPF), using the name of the road which ran through the public school campus where the complex would be constructed. In May 2004 PHPF received its tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.
For the Board of Directors, we thought it advisable to have representatives from town government. The Board is comprised of 11 individuals and includes a representative from the Board of Selectman, the Board of Finance and the Board of Education, the Athletic Director of the Public Schools, and seven “at large” members from the community.
In order to proceed with the project we needed to navigate the land use approval process. First we sought the approval of the Inland Wetlands Commission since we were building the fields within 150 feet of wetlands.
After several public hearings we obtained both Inland Wetlands and Planning and Zoning approval. We then had to obtain Town approval (i.e. a vote by the majority of residents attending a Town meeting) to discontinue a segment of Plumb Hill Road that traversed the area of the proposed fields to allow construction, as well as town approval of a lease agreement with the town for the 15 acre site. At a town meeting held on June 16, 2004, the town overwhelmingly approved the closure of the road and the lease arrangement.
Pursuant to the lease agreement negotiated with the town, PHPF leased the 15 acre site to construct the fields and track for $1.00 per year. The lease term is for 30 years renewable at PHPF’s option for additional 5 year terms. When the project was completed PHPF leased back the sports complex at a negotiated “rental payment” of $45,000.00 a year, (with a cost of living escalator) to maintain the sport complex.
Site clearing began in the summer 2004. However, we had to return to the Inland Wetlands Commission to eliminate certain conditions of its approval that made proceeding with the project difficult. The Commission required another public hearing. Excavation began in the fall of 2004.
In early June 2005 we laid sod for two fields to expedite their use for the fall. Two additional fields were seeded.
In the summer of 2005 we made the decision to delay installation of the track until the summer of 2006 so that the area of the track, which had been constructed from fill moved from other areas of the site, could completely settle. By allowing the unsurfaced track area to settle through a winter and spring there would be less likelihood of damage to a finished track surface from settling.
In the fall of 2005 the Board realized that the storage shed initially planned to be, a 20’ x 30’ structure, was totally inadequate to store all the track and field equipment for the winter (high jump and pole vault mats, hurdles, goals, team benches, etc.). We explored building a prefabricated metal storage building. We contacted several manufacturers and chose Morton Builders, a national company to design a barn structure to be built adjacent to the track. We incorporated into the building design a large roof overhang to provide a safe protected area for children to take cover in the event of a thunder and lighting storm. The metal building cost $65,000.00. To complete the structure with concrete floor, electric power and lights would cost another $25,000.00 to $30,000.00. The Seherr-Thoss Foundation approved a grant of $50,000.00. We initiated a public appeal to raise additional funds to help defray the expenses for this addition to the original project. The letter appeal raised an additional $25,000.00 from over 120 community members and groups. The building was constructed in the spring of 2006.
The Mondo track, a world class rubberized track that is highly durable and favored by athletes and coaches, was installed in August 2006. It’s currently the only eight-lane running track in the 11 school Berkshire League.
While Sunny did not live to see the inaugural track meet held in the spring of 2007, we know she would be proud of the completed facilities and pleased that they will be enjoyed by the children and community of Litchfield for generations to come.
President, PHPF, Inc.