Outdoor Recreation Area Study Committee’s Work Progresses

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

One of Bedford’s playing fields, along Mudge Way

The nine member committee that was formed to examine outdoor recreational facilities has a challenging list of tasks to complete before November’s Special Town Meeting.

Formed by the Selectmen following the spring Town Meeting’s failed attempt to pass a bond article to install synthetic turf on the Sabourin football field, the committee was directed to inventory the playing fields and assess their conditions; ascertain best practices for field maintenance; determine how best to optimize field use and scheduling; develop comparisons between Bedford’s field standards and those of other municipalities; assess field supply and demand by season and by sport; determine if a backlog of users exists and, if so, create a comprehensive five-year plan for how to address the issue; provide an estimated cost associated with such a plan; and research health and safety issues associated with sports competitions played on synthetic turf.

At their most recent meeting, the committee assessed the progress that has been made to date on eachof the eight directives, spending much of the time on the questions of field inventory and field conditions,and discussed the need toidentify best practices for field maintenance.

To demonstrate field conditions, committee members have taken photographs, many of which show fields in less than optimum condition. Some, like the new baseball diamond on Page Field, show standing water and mud patches even though no rain had fallen for several days. It was also reported that the “new” South Road soccer fields had been off-line for three years.

All in all, the committee estimatedthat 17 out of the 20 town fields are in “tough shape.” Committee Chairman David Sukoff added that the condition of the so-called “plateau field” at the Middle School is “worse than poor. It’s unplayable.”

“A picture’s worth a thousand words,” said committee member Dave Powell. “You can drive by these fields and they look good from 200 yards away but then you get right on top of them…We could get a whole lot more use out of those existing 20 fields—in terms of meeting the demands and the capacity—if we just took care of them a little better.”

Member Jim Harrington added, “There’s plenty of scientific data out there [about best practices of field maintenance].There are charts for the best combination of grasses and soils in Massachusetts. There’s the height to cut the grass,there are the ways to cut the grass, there’s exactly how sharp your blades should be…how long a footprint should last in the grass of a healthy field.”

Member Tara Capobianco, who is researching best practices for the fields and doing town-to-town comparisons, reported that some towns outsource their field condition assessments and/or their landscaping service needs.

Ultimately, it was decided that Harrington would collect questions from the other members and then meet with staff fromthe Department of Public Works (DPW) to better understand how their budget and time constraints impact field maintenance. “We need to let DPW speak because they will be able to tell us some things that we just don’t know. Those guys walk the fields every week and their perspective, I’m sure, will be enlightening.”

The committee also speculated that some of the landscape professionals living in town could be excellent resources as Bedford’s field maintenance best practice document is developed.

Another decision the committee made is to schedule a weekend meeting to walk the fields with the Selectmen and DPW staff. Selectmen Mike Rosenberg suggested that the focus of the tour be the full-sized, heavily-used fields that are the subject of discussion for replacement. “You spend an hour on those and you know,” he said.

Campobianco commented, “This sounds like a very good use of time…just to go out there and see what they look like and how they feel and walk them.”

Member Ron Taylor added, “But you kind of have to go to some other town to see what a good field looks like. If all you do is look at Bedford fields you think, ‘Well, this one is good and this one is bad.’ But that ‘good’ is not really good.”

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