DERBY >> The Board of Education announced Thursday that a private donor, whose father was a 1915 graduate of Derby High School, is donating $2 million for construction of a new fieldhouse and baseball field, which school officials are calling a real “game changer.”
Superintendent of Schools Matthew Conway said the donation from Joan A. Payden is being made in memory of her father J.R. (Joseph Raymond) Payden.
J.R. Payden, born in 1896, grew up in Derby and was valedictorian of the class of 1915. He graduated from the Yale University Sheffield Scientific School of Engineering and later served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps Aviation Division as a fighter pilot for the Royal Flying Corps in England.
Conway said the gift is earmarked for construction of a new, state-of-the-art fieldhouse at the Leo F. Ryan Athletic Complex and a new high school baseball field.
The donation comes at a time when a $2.9 million renovation to the athletic complex is being planned. The state Bond Commission approved the funds last year. The district originally applied for $5 million, but had to cut $1.8 million, which scrapped the fieldhouse and contingencies.
The existing baseball field, which isn’t regulation size, is located at Ryan Field. School officials said it has to be relocated to make way for the makeover which will feature an artificial turf, multi-purpose field, eight-lane rubberized track and other improvements.
A Baseball Field Relocation Committee was and is entertaining relocating the field to Bradley School or Witek Park. A forum last October drew a huge crowd in support of moving the field to Bradley School. The committee has since met several times and has been weighing the pros and cons of each location.
Now, however, with the sizeable donation, Conway said it’s possible the baseball field could be done right at its current home.
The committee has lots of work to do, and no decision has been made about the field’s future location.
No matter the case, city officials assured coaches worried their sports programs may get displaced that things will work out.
“No program is going to be hurt by this. … I will not allow our kids to suffer,” said Aldermanic President Carmen DiCenso, a committee member.
Committee member Anthony DeFala, Derby’s director of Public Works, echoed similar sentiments.
“Until we have more information, we can’t make a decision on the field relocation, and when we do we know there’s going to be some sacrifice on everyone’s part,” DeFala said. “No program will be sacrificed, and everyone will benefit from this.”
Conway said requests for proposals to find an architect to design the project recently went out, and are due back Feb. 14, but said the project might not get underway until fall.
“The generous donation from Joan Payden is a game changer for this great city and district,” said Conway. “It will help us achieve what was just days ago the impossible and will allow us to bring proper honor to our past while providing a much needed home for our present and future athletes. In a community so rich with tradition, this will become the center of that tradition. A place to visit, congregate, reminisce and honor those who have played, and those who have made a contribution to Derby High School, this City … and in J.R.’s case, this country.”
Conway said Joan Payden is founder and CEO of Payden & Rygel Investment Management, with $110 billion in assets, and is a renowned global investment firm with offices in Los Angeles, Boston, London, Paris and Frankfurt. Joan Payden, through a press release issued by Conway, said “Derby is where my heritage begins. I’m happy to give back to the high school my father so enjoyed.”