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As school shutdown continues, Vets Park construction begins

Those who venture out of their houses to drive down on Broad Street in the city may be struck by an unusual sight at Veterans Memorial Park.

Gone are almost all of the signifiers of the old Vets Park, from the bleachers along the football field, the baseball fencing, backstop and dugouts, along with many trees, taken down by contractors. Demolition, the first step toward a major renovation of the athletic field, began last week.

Despite the pandemic of COVID-19 and state-wide social distancing mandate closing schools and many businesses, the project started on time.

“They are still on schedule,” Salamanca City Central School District superintendent Bob Breidenstein said. “Right now what they're doing at the park is predominantly demolition and site preparation work. They've knocked down the old vacant house and the bleachers and scoreboard are gone and the fencing on the infield is gone. They're doing some timbering of trees right now and they're expected for another two to three weeks to continue to do some demolition and site preparation work. Right now they're just on schedule.”

The new Vets Park field would allow for football, lacrosse, soccer and baseball, all on new turf, expected to be completed by mid-2021. So far, social distancing measures haven’t impacted the start of the project.

“They're taking additional health precautions, which is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, New York State, the governor's executive orders and the county,” Breidenstein said. “So each of the contractors has a specific COVID-19 protocol that they have in place about social distancing and preventative measures for reporting to work and healthcare precautions. That's pretty consistent. But being an outside construction work, they're pretty well self-contained within their own responsibilities. It's hard to get socially close when you're timbering a tree, that's just now safe. If you're in a bulldozer or a backhoe, it's really very singular and very isolated work at this point in time. That work for demolition and site prep is expected to continue for several more weeks depending on the weather.”

Salamanca High School planned to play a handful of lacrosse games at the old Vets Park field before April 3, the final available date before construction started. But with the spring high school season delayed and threatened by the pandemic, those games couldn’t be held.

“Obviously that didn't happen,” said Salamanca athletic director Rich Morton, who has been working from home. “That (April 3) was the date we were supposed to be done playing and they were going to start construction. So obviously that came and went.

“They cut all the trees, they took the backstops down, the dugouts are gone. It's like, 'Oh my gosh.' It's a massive undertaking of the trees they've been cutting, it looks like loggers in there. That has begun, but typically we would know more about it if we were still in session and that was going on, we'd be watching it happen.”

Before the virus-related shutdowns, Salamanca planned to split its spring events between the regular high school track/soccer field, the Crowley Park youth field on River Street and at St. Bonaventure University, striking agreements with the city’s youth sports organizations and SBU. Salamanca’s displaced spring teams scheduled more away games this year and the fall teams may do so as well.

“We haven't talked to anybody yet, but we would most likely play at Crowley Park,” Morton said about the 2020 football schedule. The issue also is that they'll still have midgets and peewees, all that stuff, but we're transitioning our seventh and eighth grade into modified football. So now we're looking at three levels of football (through the school), plus peewees, plus midgets to be able to play at Crowley Park. That will create a bit of a problem at some point. So we might have to get creative about playing.

“We've definitely got to have a homecoming game and senior night, but we still have JV games to play there, we'll have modified games that we'll have to play there. It'll be growing pains a little bit for us, it's a temporary inconvenience for a permanent improvement.”

Breidenstein anticipates a similar setup for fall teams’ field usage, with practices all on school property and games at the soccer/track field, Crowley, St. Bonaventure or on the road.

“We have all of our internal sites available for practice,” Breidenstein said. “That's not going to be disrupted because of the construction and the fall season will be a heavier away schedule, which it would have been for the spring this year. We're still working out the logistics for the use of Crowley Field and St. Bonaventure University. We have that set for this spring, but that's the next step. Coach Morton and Coach (Chad) Bartoszek are working on that schedule and trying to get that done because the football schedule just came out about four weeks ago and then all of the virus stuff hit. So we're a little bit behind with that just because everything is shut down.”

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