BRIDGEPORT -- The playground was going to be built at the left end of the property, just a few yards away from the mini-soccer and lacrosse fields and the artificial surface basketball courts.
Down the right side was going to be the quarter-mile walking track and the centerpiece of the facility was a state-of-the-art Little League baseball field, complete with permanent backstop, dugouts and press box. The baseball field would have benefited the Black Rock Little League while everything else would have benefited the entire community.
Not quite a year ago, Cal Ripken Jr. took a shovel and dug the first hole in what was to be the revitalization of the field next to Longfellow School, part of a $1.5 million youth development park project in conjunction with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.
But since Ripken and a half-dozen other local representatives put that first shovel into the ground on June 8, 2011, nothing had been done.
According to Steve Salem, executive director of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, groundbreaking for the field will take place on June 19 with -- if no problems arise -- a completion date of late September.
"I'm so excited about this," said Salem, in a phone conversation Friday from his office in Baltimore. "My hometown is Fairfield, so I couldn't be happier. This has been a very smooth project because the mayor (Bill Finch) has been so great to work with. This is a real priority for Bill and he's been a pleasure to work with. I can't wait to come up and see it completed."
The youth athletic field project was originally created by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, an organization created in 2001 by Cal Ripken Jr. and his brother Billy, to honor their father's memory by building athletic facilities and working with underserved youth around the country in partnership with various youth organizations, especially Little League baseball.
Salem grew up in Fairfield and was contacted by former Bridgeport city-wide athletic director Alan Wallack, who once worked at the Jewish Community Center on Park Avenue, where Salem used to go during the summer. The Longfellow School field was eventually selected, money was raised and hopes were high.
But last fall as the site was being prepared for construction, it was discovered that the soil where the field was going to be renovated was badly contaminated with arsenic and other chemicals. The field was closed off with fencing and the 55,000-square-foot sports complex project was put on hold.
According to Salem, cleaning up the contaminated soil on the property where the athletic field will be is supposed to be completed within the next five weeks.
"So that on June 19, we can start building the field," Salem said.
The plan is to put a six- to 12-inch base of stone over the existing field before construction begins, according to Salem.
"Normally we dig down and put in stone," Salem said.
"But in this case, we're building up."
"This is terrific. This will be the first park in Connecticut that Cal's doing," said Wallack, who now works for the Board of Education/Facilities Department and has been the point man with Salem working to get this field built.
"They have them in probably, 30 states already. And not only is it going to be for kids, there's going to be a senior walking track. It's going to be a first-class physical education facility for the school. It's going to be a mini-Harbor Yard."
"I am very happy that we're able to move forward on creating the Cal Ripken Sr. Youth Development Park. We've been working closely with the foundation since 2010 to bring this exciting opportunity to the children of our city," Finch said in a statement.
Last week, the state granted funds to add to the $27.6 million the city already has in place to a project to replace the Longfellow school building and surrounding grounds. The total cost to replace the building and surrounding area is $50.8 million.
And while the school footprint may be moved, allowing for even more field space, the original Ripken project is going ahead as planned.
"For the most part it's going to be exactly what we said we were going to build and it's going to be beautiful," Salem said.