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Norwich grants ARP money to youth football field lights, Global City Norwich efforts

Norwich – The heavily used Jennings Field youth football park will receive new lights, and Global City Norwich will receive operating cash in the latest allocations from the city’s first year $14.2 million American Rescue Plan grant.

The City Council on Monday night approved $120,000 to replace the obsolete and fading lights at the youth football field. Global City Norwich will receive $150,000 in operating funds, divided over the next three years. The allocations are in addition to the $11 million in grant money allocated previously to various city projects, Human Services assistance, Recreation Department upgrades and support for nonprofit entities.

Coach Derek Smith said the Norwich Youth Football League has been forced to cut practices short due to darkness even with the lights on.

Dylan Barcena, a Norwich native, told the council he is proud to be a Peruvian-Puerto Rican entrepreneur. He praised Global City Norwich, which has hosted international festivals, including a Peruvian festival and classes for small business owners. Barcena praised the work of Global City Norwich liaison, Suki Lagrito, and said through Global City Norwich’s classes, he and his father are working to open a Peruvian-Puerto Rican bakery in Greeneville.

“Before I met Suki, there were no existing programs though the city for Peruvians or Puerto Ricans,” Barcena said. “… Through Global City Norwich, our family has been encouraged and supported to invest in the city.”

Other speakers said Global City Norwich has brought the city’s diverse cultures and residents together to learn about one another, eat different foods and hear music from other cultures. The many participants in the pre-COVID-19 festivals spent the day in Norwich, visiting businesses and spending money.

Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, an active member of the local Sikh community, said he supports more efforts by the city and Global City Norwich to improve communication with the city’s diverse residents.

Resident Kendra Johnson said investing in the downtown festivals also brings a better sense of pride in the Norwich community and fosters connections among the various ethnic groups and city government.

“That’s where the connections are made,” she said.

Johnson recommended Global City Norwich hire an events management program to plan, market and evaluate events for the future.

Resident Beryl Fishbone recommended the city ensures the money is spent appropriately. The resolution approved Monday calls for quarterly reports “on project, program and progress be submitted to the City Council.”

Aldermen were concerned whether the $120,000 allocated for the Jennings Field lights would be enough to cover the cost of cutting trees back enough to accommodate the new lights. Alderman Derell Wilson said the cost estimate put the lighting cost at $90,000 to $100,000, so he expects there will be enough to cut the trees back as well. The council added wording to the resolution allocating the funds to cover “related expenses,” including tree cutting.

Aldermen William Nash, a longtime local football coach, and Wilson, former player and referee, said they were quite familiar with the deficiencies of Jennings Field. Nash said now that the grass has been restored there, the city must address the lights. Nash said Norwich youth teams have won championships and often travel to other cities with much better facilities. He said the city’s home field should instill pride in the community.

Wilson said as a referee, it’s difficult under the current lights to determine if a player steps out of bounds or crossed the line to score a touchdown.

In approving the Global City Norwich funding, Mayor Peter Nystrom thanked Chelsea Groton Bank President and CEO Michael Rauh, who launched the Global City Norwich program in 2018 through $100,000 grants from the Chelsea Groton Bank Foundation.

The concept started with international festivals to embrace the city’s ethnic diversity, followed by business education programs to encourage entrepreneurs to open new businesses in the many vacant downtown spaces.

Rauh will be honored as the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year on Oct. 29.

c.bessette@theday.com

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