The Hatten Stadium Foundation board unveiled its plan to renovate Hatten Stadium during a meeting March 28 at New London High School’s auditorium.
Prior to this unveiling, the foundation that was formed to keep baseball alive in Hatten Stadium was received a $25,000 private donation to plan for stadium improvements.
“We knew that once high school football would not be played at Hatten Stadium, work on the ball field could start. It had to come first so we had a place to play ball. This money was made available so we could see how the whole picture of the stadium could unfold,” explained Mike Frederick, president of the foundation.
At an initial public meeting Nov. 8, 2010, citizens were asked to contribute their ideas to get the best representation of what an improved stadium could look like. Omnni Associates, who was contracted as the design firm, had representatives ask for suggestions on every aspect of the old stadium — from aesthetics to bathrooms and dugouts. It was clear that the public wanted to keep the historic walls and the feel of the old stadium, but that cramped concession areas, outdated plumbing and electrical and non-existent dugouts were valid concepts to be included in a renovated stadium. Participants were concerned that the stadium would deteriorate if an effort like this didn’t happen soon.
Fast forward to the March 28 meeting, and Omnni was ready to share their combined vision. Mike Frederick welcomed the crowd. A history of the park and stadium, complete with photographs and newspaper accounts, was presented by Cheryl Mocadlo who took the audience from the Public Works Project of the Great Depression in the 1930s, through the 1950s when lights were installed for night baseball, right up to the present, with a stadium in dire need of attention.
Hatten Stadium is now home to New London High School Baseball, New London Youth Baseball/Babe Ruth, New London American Legion Junior Legion Clippers Baseball, and the BABA New London Merchants. Nearly 100 games of baseball are played there each summer.
Three representatives from Omnni stepped up to the podium next. Their plan was revealed with a 3-dimensional slide presentation, taking the viewers into the stadium from a birds-eye view, talking about keeping the aesthetics of the 1930s stadium intact, then swooping down to an eye level view to experience how new seating, bathrooms, concession stands and a relocated press box would look. It was easy to see the improvements and appreciate the care taken to preserve the old stadium walls and surrounding courtyard.
“We know how important the history of the stadium is to the community, and none of the walls or work of the laborers from the 1930s need be compromised,” said designer Clark Meyer of Omnni Associates. He said the walls were in very good shape considering how old they were, and there are indeed areas that will need structural work. “But that’s not unusual for a brick building of this age.”
Omnni Associates was familiar with the stadium, having prepared a structural survey for the city in the 1980s, and some repair work to the walls.
Omnni’s staff had several obstacles to overcome in the 75-year old stadium’s renovation plan. Seating and walking approaches are not up to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) codes. As the seating section is constructed now, a 42 foot ramp would have to be made to accommodate wheelchairs. The engineers came up with a way to move the seating closer to home plate and create a smaller, 30 foot ramp. They also brought the bathrooms and concessions up to crowd level, with patio seating and lawn chair areas. The press box would be relocated to the back of the seating section, at home plate, which is more advantageous to calling good games.
“We heard the public at the first meeting when they said people working concessions couldn’t even watch the game. Usually their children or a family member was playing in the game. We made that consideration when planning concessions on the crowd level. Now storage space is utilized at the ground level, where deliveries can be easily accessible.
He added that from the initial meeting in November, it was clear that the public wanted to marry baseball with the community, and offer other events at the stadium. “The way we have it designed, people can use the improved courtyard for family gatherings and special events. Bricks around the center aisle could be sold as fundraising for the stadium.”
New London Parks and Recreation Director and foundation treasurer Chad Hoerth added later that concerts will not be ruled out. “We have to find ways to allow the community to enjoy this venue when games are not being played. It’s a beautiful facility, and concerts may be one way of using the stadium for the arts.”
New London High School will be a supporter of the new plan. The school administration has no plans to add a baseball diamond to the sports complex, and has shown great interest in the plans for the stadium. High School Athletic Director Scott Eggert is anticipating playing ball at Hatten forever. “We don’t have room at the high school for a ball diamond. The high school complex was built knowing we would always use Hatten Stadium for our baseball games.” The new scoreboard that went up at the stadium last year came from the high school.
Where to go from here
When asked where the plans go from here, Hoerth remarked, “We’ll be kicking off our fundraising campaign for renovation of the field first, which was our intention when we first formed our foundation. If the stadium takes longer, that’s o.k.. We’ll still have a quality field to play ball on.”
Hoerth explained that the project will be accomplished in phases, raising money for each phase along the way. “If economic times were different, perhaps we could do this faster. I think it’s ironic that this stadium was built in the throes of the Great Depression and now we’re attempting to renovate it in another economic slump.”
“If all goes well we’ll be hopefully starting construction for the field this fall.” First the CAD drawing and the field survey have to be compiled to be sure the plan will work. Once that is approved, and once the baseball season for 2011 has ended, the infield will be ripped out, with up to one foot of soil being removed. A new ball diamond mix and conditioners will be added for a proper base to the field. Sod will be replaced. Hoerth is happy to report the tile in the outfield is still effective, and the outfield is in really good shape already. “We’ve kept up on it, and had direct seeding and rolling done. The tile installed in the 1990s is working great.” He said irrigation and a warning track is the only thing the outfield is in need of.
After the field is complete, fundraising phases for bathrooms, seating and press box, dugouts, concessions, and landscaping will take the stadium to its former glory and beyond. Find donation information and updates at www.Hattenstadium.org. After April 15, watch Cable 96 or 990 to view the entire March 28 meeting.