Selectmen Postpone Decision for Athletic Field Design on Former St. Michael’s Land
By Kim Siebert MacPhail
The plan for Monday night, December 10, was that the Selectmen would determine whether to proceed with designs for natural grass athletic fields ($60,000 for design/$650,000 construction) or synthetic turf ($150,000 design/$2.45M construction.) Instead, due to the course of the discussion between Selectmen, DPW Director Rich Warrington, and members of the Outdoor Recreation Area Study Committee (ORASC), a decision was postponed until January 7, when ORASC, it is hoped, will be able to provide additional analysis of the options.
Last week, discussion of the issue ended on a heated note. [See http://thebedfordcitizen.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/selectmen-sukoff-disagree-on-st-michaels-land-process/ ] This week, Board of Selectman Chair Cathy Cordes began the meeting by trying to calm passions.
“I apologize for the Selectmen. I think there has been some lack of communication around [the] timing of this issue and hopefully this is going to clear the air around all of that,” said Cordes.
She went on to make two points that provided a framework for subsequent discussion:
- “The clock is running.” Cordes said, noting that a timeframe of three years is attached to the approval the Town received from the Conservation Commission to construct athletic fields on the parcel.Wetlands replication is part of both the design and construction phases. If the project isnot finished in the requisitetimeframe, the Conservation Commission’s approval deadline must be extended.
- “We have been working toward this point of developing fields at St. Michael’s for some time—six years, now.” Cordes listed some of the hurdles that have already been overcome in the interim between the purchase of the land and the present day, including mapping of wetlands, laying out the field space and orientation, and working through the Conservation process.
“I’m pretty sure there’s consensus that this is the next step, in terms of fields,” Cordes said, adding that the first meeting to review Community Preservation projects is this Thursday, December 13. Community Preservation funds could be used to cover the cost of the entire grass field project, although not the entire synthetic field, as was seen in the Sabourin Field debate.
“We want to give [the Community Preservation Committee] a preliminary look at what the potential will be for requests for funding at this Annual Town Meeting,” Cordes added.
Other Selectmen then expressed their opinions:
Bill Moonan said he believed there’s more work to be done to determine how to proceed. Additionally, the Town–with ORASC’s help—should develop a standard of care for current and additional fields so that playing conditions across the field inventory will improve.
“I think we ought to have a more comprehensive feeling about these things, regardless of the history of getting to where we are now with the St. Michael’s land,” Moonan said.“That kind of information is important. If there’s a reasonable opportunity to do that before [we] decide exactly how the fields should be configured, I’d like to give [ORASC] the chance to do that. If the rest of my fellow Selectmen don’t feel that it can wait that long, I’d still like them to do that kind of work before Town Meeting.”
Mike Rosenberg addedthat, in his opinion, the three-year Conservation Commission deadline is a soft deadline and that an extension would not be difficult to obtain, since it would entail the Town negotiating with itself. Additionally, Rosenberg pointed out that the first attempt to pass the synthetic turf article failed because citizens demanded more analysis and information before approving the project.
“To me, the most important thing that we need to sustain is the process that was established with the formation of [ORASC] and the follow-through to the Special Town Meeting vote,” Rosenberg said. “To abandon that process for any reason would be hard to explain. We’re not compelled to accept any recommendation for any of our committees. . .but at least let’s give enough time to give [a recommendation].”
Margot Fleischman noted, in her experience, that feedback about any delay of the St. Michael’s project has been negative, particularly from parents of the very successful Middle School girls’ field hockey team as well as parents of girls slightly younger who also play the sport.
“There’s a huge interest. The [Middle School] team is sharing field space with [other teams]. . . . They would really welcome the extra space that the St. Michael’s fields would present. They did not feel like turf was a big issue—more it was the expansion of that area so they could just spread out, because now what you’re getting is a lot of teams that are trying to practice at the same time. They’re practicing the same sport but at a lot of different levels, and it’s not so appropriate to have the little kids and the big kids [together]. They are excited about moving forward in a timely fashion.”
On the subject of timing, Warrington said that it should take six weeks to develop a design and two more weeks for bid documents to be received. He also said he was confident that the cost estimates now being used are fairly accurate because they are based on recent experience.
“I think we have some very good costs to go by,” Warrington responded. “We have an existing bid on Sabourin Field so we know what synthetic fields cost on a wide-open, easy to define area. That gives us what the cost of doing construction in Bedford is. Then we have to think about taking the trees down at St. Michael’s, doing the rough grading, and then start with the surface similar to Sabourin. . . . As for the grass fields, we have plenty of experience doing those ourselves and doing it under contract. We know what these fields take to restructure.”
Members of ORASC added their own comments:
ORASC chair David Sukoff lobbied for more time to gather relevant information, like scheduling and revenue assumptions that were based on field rental.
“Now that we know that Sabourin’s going to exist, we want to see how our assumptions are going to play out. That’s important for the next step. Part of why Sabourin passed is because had a firm analysis. . . .We want to take the information and evaluate it to see what happens next. . . .We had a few months last time, we don’t want to end up rushing what is an important decision. We’re looking at different options here: Should it be grass or should it be turf? The Selectmen seem solid with it, but we as a committee haven’t even decided amongst ourselves. An informal poll would probably show that we’re split, if not leaning toward turf. Do you do St. Michael’s at all? Is that next?”
ORASC colleague Tara Capobianco expressed concern about Town Meeting’s appetite for adding more fields so soon after passing the Sabourin project.
“I’m as pro-field as anyone, but you don’t want to lose chances by pushing people to their limits,” she said.
Jim Lespasio, another member of ORASC,focused on field quality,saying the Town needed to get a better handle on how to maintain grass fields before it added more.
Selectman Mark Siegenthaler commented that, to his way of thinking, positions had not changed since last Monday’s Selectmen’s meeting.
“I’m happy to hear everything anyone wants to say— but to be honest and not belabor this—I don’t hear anything different from what I heard last time. The opinions amongst all the people here are the same opinions that they had before. Frankly, so is mine. I would vote tonight but I am happy if you want to give the committee more time.”
Noting that, Cordes requested that ORASC pull together what it could by January 7.
“We’ll try,” replied Sukoff. “We probably have time for two meetings,” added ORASC colleague Michael Hayes.