Inside Town Government: The Recreation Department

By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.

This is the fourth in a series of articles describing the inner workings of the town of Smithfield’s various offices and departments.

The definition of recreation is: “activity done for enjoyment when one is not working.”

That covers a lot of ground, and it means that the town’s Recreation Department has to do the same in order to provide for all of the kinds of things residents like to do when they relax, play, or exercise.

Re-organized about two years ago into three different entities which drew the lines among them more distinctly, the department has been headed since then by Director Robert Caine. His office is in the Senior Center in Deerfield Park.

Previously, recreation activities were handled among the Municipal Ice Rink, the School Department, and the Department of Public Works, which maintained a good percentage of the playing fields and such.

Today, the overlap among the departments has been largely removed. The rink is managed by T.J. Tully, the School Department handles the permits for their own properties during the school year, but the Recreation Department does it during the summer, and they also do the grounds-keeping for all town facilities except for the Police Department.

“This department kind of touches all the other departments,” Caine observes. He also rattles off a number of community organizations which work closely with Recreation, including all the youth and adult sports leagues, the Boy Scouts, and the YMCA.

Because the greatest demand on outdoor facilities is in the warm weather months, much of the Recreation Department staff is seasonal, Paine explains. There are two full-timers, Matt Robert and Tom Caine, and between April 1 and the end of November seven additional workers are added.

Besides that the department is responsible for Slack’s Beach in Greenville and the Georgiaville Pond Beach in Georgiaville. Twenty-one people, including lifeguards, are hired to staff the beaches from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week between mid-June when school gets out for the summer and Labor Day.

“All of the people who work with me are phenomenal people. They take real pride in how this town looks and functions,” says the director.

The department has no assistant director and no secretary. “It’s all me,” Caine says with a chuckle, adding “there’s no time off for me in the summer.”

In fact, he adds, “It’s really a lot of work after work. Obviously the coaches work during the day, so I’m in touch with a lot of people in the evening.”

To give an idea of the scope of the department’s responsibilities consider this: there are 14 Little League, Senior League, and softball fields in town. There are also three regulation baseball fields.

Besides these facilities there are four tennis courts and two outdoor basketball courts at Deerfield Park, four tennis courts at the high school, and a basketball court at Anna McCabe School which is undergoing a total reconstruction and upgrade. Moreover, the high school has a football field that is also used for soccer and lacrosse and it has a running track. In addition, residents use the track for recreational walking after school hours.

Add the fact that there is a 10 acre plot at Deerfield Park that can accommodate 11 or 12 soccer pitches, the layouts of which are changed from time to time to avoid wear patterns. Lacrosse is also played on this space. Girls’ field hockey is played at the high school on the expansive outfield of the baseball diamond. At Deerfield Park there are walking trails and cross country trails too.

“We have a lot of five o’clock in the morning walkers who use the park,” Caine marvels. In the winter cross country skiers also use the trails.

A long-standing and very popular summer tennis program directed by former high school French teacher Jack Lawrence has been going for 50 years. It operates at both Deerfield Park and the high school.

In addition to hosting the various leagues and programs the Recreation Department maintains all the lawn irrigation systems, the concession stands, and storage buildings.

Caine, who grew up in Georgiaville on Whipple hill and went through the Smithfield school system, takes special pride in his background prior to assuming his job with the town. He was the owner of a landscape irrigation company, and he says his experience has been very useful in his current post.

“I started working for the Department of Public Works in 2008. Prior to that I was self-employed my whole life. “I’ve done a lot of work on the irrigation systems here,” he notes.

The director goes on to talk about the broader definition of recreation that is shaping the programming they do, mentioning collaborating with the Conservation Commission, and the Woonasquatucket River Council, which maintains the waterways in town.

“We’re trying to build this Rec Department,” he declares.

He further comments on events such as movie nights, a magic show, painting classes and the like which will be offered in conjunction with the YMCA, which also co-sponsors a summer day camp that offers a wide variety of activities.

Caine himself is on committees which are responsible for the annual Christmas parade and various special events, as well as other committees serving the town.

He calls attention to Family Fun Day scheduled in Deerfield Park on April 17 during school vacation. It will showcase the youth sports organizations, community organizations, and various vendors, and will offer raffles, a karate demonstration, dance presentations and so on.

“We’re trying to include everybody,” he says,

The department budget is “around $800,000,” Caine remarks, adding that the breakdown includes all ancillary accounts, not just operating expenses.

Looking ahead, he points out that the high school track that runs around the perimeter of the football field was resurfaced several years ago, and is now nearing the end of its useful life. Hence, the town is looking at refurbishing both the track and the gridiron with quality surfaces. This would include artificial turf for the football field.

“A state-of-the art upgrade would also include a concession stand and rest rooms,” he says. “It’s a wish list.”

To keep up with Recreation Department news check out their Facebook page. To contact them, call 349-0612.