Norwalk school board OKs soliciting donations, naming rights for Whitney Field improvements

Cary Ashby • Oct 10, 2019 at 1:00 PM

The Whitney Field Improvement Committee and its marketing team are authorized to solicit cash and in-kind donations to complete the Whitney Field improvement project.

Also, the Norwalk City Schools board of education approved the committee and marketing team to “solicit donors for the purpose of naming rights for the field, stadium, track, press box, scoreboard and any other permanent elements” of what will be called the Warren C. Whitney Complex. Board members passed that agenda item by a 4-1 vote Tuesday, with John Lendrum voting against it. The solicitation of donations passed unanimously without any discussion.

Lendrum expressed his concern about the naming rights for the field itself.

“I’d like to see the field taken out of it (the agenda item) and keep it Whitney Field,” he said before the vote. “People are going to call it Whitney Field anyway.”

Superintendent George Fisk, in response, said “the entire area” would be named for Whitney, but other elements at the facility could be named. During a previous board meeting, he said by naming the facility the Warren C. Whitney Complex, it would “bring some history back.” 

In 1909, the school district purchased about 16.4 acres from Theodore Washburn for nearly $3,300. Whitney, who held a “responsible position” with the Chase Piano Co. in Norwalk, said he took an interest in the project and wanted to “assist in this worthy cause,” according to the book “Norwalk’s Public Schools: A Narrative History to June 1960.” He donated $500 and later added a $50 donation.

Board president Lisa Wick asked if “everything within the complex” can be named. Fisk said that was correct, but the names would be placed where it’s aesthetically pleasing.

“Any contract you would have to approve,” the superintendent added.

All “the contractual agreements” over naming-related donations “will not be fully expendable until approved by a majority” of the school board, according to Tuesday’s agenda. The board approved that donations for the improvement project won’t be solicited “for the naming of the complex, which will be named the Warren C. Whitney Complex.”

Residents who attended the Sept. 17 work session by the school board shared a similar sentiment as Lendrum — that despite the results of the naming rights, most people most likely will refer to the facility as Whitney Field. They used the example of the Cleveland Indians playing at Progressive Field, saying there are many fans who still call the stadium Jacobs Field or even “The Jake.”

The Norwalk Truckers and St. Paul Flyers play their home football games at Whitney Field, which also hosts track-and-field events.

The proposed plan is replacing the field after the current football season and then installing a new track after it is used this school year. School officials have said the minimum cost for a new turf field — “with no bells and whistles” — would be about $600,000, while a new track could cost upwards of $250,000.

“In an ideal world, the turf field and new track would be ready for the next school year,” said Corey Ream, the director of student operations.

Fisk and Ream said Tuesday they have met with two of the major, potential donors twice and feel “really comfortable” with one of them, without elaborating. They met at Whitney Field and Norwalk High School. The names of the donors haven’t been released. 

All the cash donations “will be deposited and expended through the Whitney Field Improvement Committee,” which will establish the value of the in-kind labor and/or materials, according to Tuesday’s agenda. 

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