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Another Field Of Broken Promises

Helen Ubiñas

May 14, 2009

It's been 10 days, and Diggs Construction hasn't delivered on its promise to take care of the unplayable baseball field at Hartford High.

Sure, the firm hired by the city to oversee the school construction project has put on a good show — setting deadlines, withholding money from contractors, writing letters informing those same contractors that another company will be hired to do the job they haven't done.

All the things you'd expect from someone who really intended to make things right.

Except it hasn't.

The field is still a pockmarked mess of divots and weeds. There's no outfield fence and a third baseman trying to chase a popup into foul territory could easily find himself tumbling into a drainage channel.

So when local Diggs operations manager Joseph DeSanti walked the field with coach Joe Lombardo and athletic director Pierre Joseph the other day, it wasn't surprising to hear a whole bunch of can't dos. Can't do this, can't do that.

Can't do exactly what they had promised they would — make the field right after contractors used it as a staging area for their equipment and materials. It's not their fault, DeSanti protested. A lot of what was wrong predated him.

Great, another excuse.

As I watched Coach Lombardo grow more and more frustrated, squeezing a baseball as if he wanted to crush it, I found myself at a loss for words. For a while I couldn't figure out why — and then it finally hit me.

Infuriating as this situation was, it was just the latest chapter of city improvements that did nothing to improve the lives of the kids in this city.

Turns out, this is the second time in about 10 years that Hartford High's athletic fields have become casualties of development projects. After my first column on the baseball field ran, former Hartford schools athletic director June Bernabucci reminded me that a land swap in the late 1990s forced students to play lots of their games at the city's unkempt fields.

But at least that project resulted in a new field — the one that was essentially trashed by this construction project just a few years later.

"The kids have been paying the price of not having their athletic fields for over a decade," Bernabucci said. "Many people like to use the phrase, 'children first,' but seldom does it happen in the case of the Hartford High athletic programs."

So, DeSanti was just another in a long line of suits making empty promises.

And why not? It's not as if anyone at city hall is holding him accountable. If it wasn't for the coach's making a stink, the contractors would have collected their money and walked. Even with the coach going public and pressing the issue, there is absolutely no urgency here.

We have school officials calling themselves passive observers of something taking place at a school. A newbie school building committee chairman and a former Diggs employee turned $165,000-a year capital projects watchdog who just spits out bureaucrat drivel when asked why the city isn't demanding that Diggs make things right. Now.

And should we be surprised? Who actually thought capital projects director James Keaney would ride herd over his old employer?

No wonder DeSanti isn't in any rush. I wouldn't be, either. Clearly, he has nothing to fear from the schools or the city.

In fact, with how little anyone in power is doing to hold this company accountable, you could almost forget that taxpayers are paying the millions spent on this school.Shame on Diggs, sure. But more shameful than contractors trying to get over is a complicit city, indifferent to it all.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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