Norwich authority plans to advocate for Dodd Stadium improvements

Norwich — The Baseball Stadium Authority and Connecticut Tigers officials will attend Monday’s City Council public hearing and potential vote on an $800,000 bond ordinance for improvements to the 25-year-old Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium, including installing energy-efficient LED lights.

The bonding proposal is critical to keeping the minor league Connecticut Tigers in Norwich, team and city officials said. The stadium lights no longer meet professional baseball standards, and the Tigers’ 10-year lease with the city runs through the 2019 baseball season. The current lease has provisions for two five-year extensions.

The bond ordinance includes an estimated $500,000 for the lights and $300,000 to replace the ventilation system in team clubhouses and possibly to extend protective netting around the infield. The authority extended the netting last summer over a portion of the two dugouts, which meets current Major League Baseball recommendations. But Tigers and authority officials are awaiting new recommendations expected to call for further extensions to at least the full length of the dugouts.

Authority Chairman Michael Jewell encouraged board members Wednesday to attend Monday’s council meeting, possibly speak at the hearing and to be prepared to answer questions by council members following the hearing.

The council meeting begins at 7:30 p.m., and the stadium hearing will follow two other public hearings, one on proposed community development block grant allocations and a $675,000 bond proposal to replace computer system and software in the school system’s central office to be compatible with city finance department computers.

Jewell said the capital improvements are needed and well beyond the routine stadium maintenance and repairs funded through the city using lease payments. The authority discussed several of those types of repairs Wednesday, including the emergency lighting, repairs to the netting and padding in the dugouts and the potential replacement of rusted bolts on about two dozen seats.

Authority member Gary Schnip, who oversees stadium issues, said it’s too soon to predict the timing of the improvements even if the council approves the ordinance Monday. If the city uses a state-approved contractor, avoiding a lengthy bid process, the work could be done much sooner. One contractor already contacted has designed a system using the existing light poles. Schnip said another contractor also has expressed interest in the project.

But the bond improvements would be contingent on successful negotiations with the Tigers on a new or extended lease. Tigers General Manager Dave Schermerhorn said if the ordinance is approved, representatives from the team ownership would come to Norwich soon to negotiate the lease.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 10 years already,” Schermerhorn said. “Seems like yesterday.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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