Fences are a hot topic in Hudson these days. There may be a new one coming to the historic athletic fields at Montgomery C. Smith Elementary School.
The Hudson City School District has decided at the request of the “baseball community” to make John A. Barrett Field at MCSES the primary baseball field for Hudson High. This is a change from the district’s public pledges during its 2015-16 capital projects campaign when it said it would build a new baseball field at nearby Hudson Jr./Sr. High School.
When the district changed its mind about the location of the field is not clear. It did not tell taxpayers and Board of Education minutes do not mention a discussion or decision. Despite the district’s claims of “lengthy discussions” with the public about the plan, there is no record of such (A frequent user of the site’s running track, I learned of the project recently when wood stakes were erected on the track to mark the location of the new fence.)
Baseball, football, track and field, and other sports have been played at the MCSES field for more than 80 years. A few years ago, the district “decommissioned” Barrett Field (tennis continued to be played on the adjacent courts). The district’s plans for bringing baseball back to Barrett includes the installation of a chain-link fence around the field. Under the district’s initial plan, some fencing and dugouts would be built on the triangle-shaped cinder running track that surrounds the field. That means the 84-year-old track will no longer be suitable for running and challenging for walking.
In center field directly in front of the football grandstands, the district’s plan shows a 120-feet-long, 10-feet high fence covered in dark fabric. This will render the grandstands useless (the school board says it is reconsidering this part of the plan). Behind home plate, the historic baseball grandstands are being demolished; the district says the stands were deemed unsafe, although it does not explain why the steel, concrete and brick stands fell into disrepair.
This would all be fine if the MCSES athletic facility was just a run-of-the-mill scholastic venue. It is not. It was designed by one of America’s great landscape architects, Dr. Laurie Davidson Cox, who also helped design America’s national parks. Few know that the entire complex of buildings and athletic facilities are named after one of the nation’s founding fathers, Columbia County’s own Robert R. Livingston, (see illustration below).
The fields were built under FDR’s New Deal and provided work to hundreds of local residents during the dark days of the Great Depression. Opened in 1935 as part of Hudson’s 150th birthday celebration, it has been home to many community events such as youth field days, marching band competitions, and fireworks, in addition to Hudson’s finest athletes.
Today. the Hudson High baseball program is strong and deserves a good field but there are other options. It has an existing field at the high school that could be renovated or it could start from scratch and build a world-class field similar to the one nearby at the Greenport Town Park. The district says renovating Barrett Field compared to building a new field at the high school will save $150,000. However, it has not provided the public with a cost estimate for the Barrett Field renovation.
I am all for improving the MCSES athletic facility. It is in bad shape. The track is rutted and overgrown, the wrought-iron fence and brick pillars are falling down, concrete stairs are cracked and crumbling, and weeds have overtaken much of the property.
To be fair, the district’s facilities staff has been busy. It has done amazing work on a huge capital improvement project at the district’s two campuses. As a result, the district now has a modern track and football/soccer field at the Jr./Sr. High School. However, the district’s and board’s general inscrutability and defensiveness are regrettable.
I admit I am partial to the Robert R. Livingston site. As a young man, my grandfather — later the mayor of Hudson — helped construct it. My brother played tennis there nearly every day for a decade of springs, summers and falls. And I am enamored by its amazing history and how it was conceived and realized by the visionary Superintendent of Schools, Montgomery C. Smith.
However the baseball field discussion turns out, I say “bravo” to the district for turning its attention to the MCSES facilities. But before rushing to erect fences, dugouts and batting cages that limit the field’s uses and damage its aesthetics, the district should take a step back and consider what this gem could be from a student and community standpoint. Developing a comprehensive plan for its future use would be a good first step.
Running a school district is no easy task with many competing priorities and limited resources. But the Robert R. Livingston site deserves consideration. For many Hudsonians, it is part of who we are. As someone commented on my previous blog about the grounds, “It went beyond just football, baseball, track, and tennis, it was where life happened.”