Selectmen Move Forward with Grass Athletic Field Design

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Green grass fieldOn January 7, after hearing a statement from the Outdoor Recreation Area Study Committee (ORASC), comments from the DPW and questions from the audience, the Selectmen unanimously approved a $73,400 contract with SymmesMaini& McKee that will cover the design cost of two natural grass athletic fields at 9 Mudge Way/7 Liljegren Way, the site of the former St. Michael’s property.

The vote to move ahead was made despite pending litigation by an abutter that challenges the propriety of a wetlands variance granted by the Town’s Conservation Commission and despite concerns about existing field conditions voiced by ORASC. The Town’s Recreation Commission, however, went on record with a letter from its Chair, Ron Richter, in support of moving ahead with the grass fields’ design.

The recent background of the field design issue is that ORASC, formed by the Selectmen to researchfield inventory and conditions, was asked after November’s Special Town Meeting to look into whether additional fields at 9 Mudge/7 Liljegrenshould be the next recommended action. In response to that request, ORASC member Jim Lespasio read the following statement by the Committee:

“We’ve had two meetings since being given this directive [in December]. At first, we compiled a list of questions for the DPW pertaining to maintenance costs of existing fields as well as potential costs for new construction options. . . .[D]iscussions were held relative to potential next steps for addressing town-wide field issues. It was clear after our 2012 research that capacity was a major short-term priority, which led to the recommendation of installing turf at Sabourin Field. The committee is now prepared to state that the next priority must be the quality of all existing fields. . . .Our research leads us to a recommendation to assess all our existing fields and their maintenance schedules and [to] compare this data to generally recognized ‘best practices.’

“Further, it is the recommendation of this committee that a long-term Fields Oversight Committee be formed to maintain continuity of these best practices moving forward.

After reading the statement, Lespasio added, “At this time, it is hard for us to make a recommendation supporting [the addition of] new grass fields to our current inventory until we are sure and we can assess the existing inventory that we have.”

Selectmen Chair Cathy Cordes responded to the statement. “I find it curious [that the Committee now recommends holding off] when in your original report, you talk about the fact that one of the reasons that the fields are in the shape they are in is because they are overused because there aren’t enough fields to allow for a rotation to rest the fields. It seems counter-intuitive to me to say ‘Don’t put together two new fields until you can improve the ones the ones you already have.’ What am I missing?”

“We really don’t know that the current existing conditions of the fields are solely due to over-use,” Lespasio responded.“We know that overuse has a major part of it, but we believe that until we do a valid assessment of the conditions under[lying] each one of these fields, including all of the things we run into with best practices analysis—irrigation, aeration, fertilization, soil chemical make-up—all of these things, it’s hard for us to assume that there’s only a single cause to these existing conditions.”

When Cordes asked whether the DPW would have difficulty maintaining two new grass fields, Public Works Director Rich Warrington replied, “I see [adding fields] as the only way to get a grip on the fields situation. We need to rest [the] fields. We cannot rest a field today. There’s no possible way without curtailment of some major athletic events.”

Abutter to the former St. Michael’s land, Michelle Saber, who has appealed the Conservation Commission’s decision that allows a variance on the property’s wetland restrictions, asked the Selectmen whether a decision to move forward with field design could wait for further study by ORASC.

“I just want to say, for the record, that I’m opposed to proceeding . . .with the design.There seems to be no interest in hearing feedback from [ORASC], the committee that was designated to analyze the different fields. . . .As a matter of interest for the Town, it would probably be wise to postpone a decision [on this], subject to litigation.”

Selectman Mark Siegenthaler asked Saber to state why she is opposed to the fields.

“Primarily for the valuation of my property,” Saber replied. “There are a number of problems with the design. I’m not going to get into a discussion with you, but you are welcome to proceed at your own risk.”

Jim Lespasio added ORASC opinion. “The Committee as a whole doesn’t feel very comfortable with the numbers that are being quoted—$2.6M versus $600,000 (for two artificial fields versus two grass fields). We would rather operate on something firmer than what amounts to [being] anecdotally sort of close to what we heard from vendors in the last year. For us to do a real cost/benefit analysis. . .we really don’t have a firm enough grasp on those numbers.”

“I understand what you’re saying,” responded Cordes, “but the estimates that we have are good estimates. They’re based on the actual construction of the field that we’re about to put in,” responded Cordes. “For this point in any project, to ask for a more definitive estimate would mean that we’d have to go through design services, which is exactly what we’re talking about doing. [The Selectmen] are all satisfied with the numbers we have received in terms of the cost of artificial turf.

“Having said that,” Cordes continued, “what I’ve heard the Selectmen say—and what I also feel—is that we cannot, in good conscience, at this point in time, take a project to Town Meeting and say that we want to put additional artificial turf fields in on this piece of property.”

“Again,” replied Lespasio,” that’s not our position either. We’re just trying to come up with an analysis we can present to you on an objective level.”

Following additional observations and discussion, a motion was made and unanimously approved to move forward with the design process for two large rectangular grass athletic fields at 9 Mudge/7 Liljegren Way, pending favorable resolution for the Town of Saber’s challenge to the Conservation Commission decision. A design contract for $73,400 was awarded to Symmes Maini & McKee, which will lock in their prices. Oxbow Associates, a separate concern, will be contracted to perform any necessary wetland mitigation, also pending a favorable outcome to Saber’s challenge.

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Cathy Cordes
Cathy Cordes
9 years ago

Thank you for a good recitation of the discussion about new fields. I do want to point out that the statement read by Lespasio did say that the committee met in January and did take a vote on the new fields. There were 5 of 9 committee members attending which is a majority so they could conduct business. And the vote was 3 to 2 in favor of recommending fields at this location. While not a resounding recommendation it is still a majority of the members at the meeting in favor of new fields are adjacent to the high school. Might I also point out that the original report of the committee -available on the town website – clearly states a need for 2 new fields in addition to the artificial turf on the football field. This property was purchased by the town for the purpose of adding fields and this has been in development for the last 6 years. This is not a rushed decision by any means.

J Edwards, BARC, Chair
J Edwards, BARC, Chair
9 years ago

Bedford Arbor Resource Committee (BARC) has not yet taken an official
position regarding the development of the St. Michael’s fields. We were
informed of the project recently and will be studying it in the coming
months. Your input is welcome.

Kathryn Rifkin
Kathryn Rifkin
9 years ago

The proposed fields behind St. Michael’s are now wooded, are they not? Could we see if turfing Sabuorin Field eases the pressure before we cut down several acres of trees? As a past member of Bedford Arbor Resources, really, I must protest.

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