Recreation seeking support for $1M in field replacement and repairs this spring; another $3M in following years

by beth on December 6, 2017

Post image for Recreation seeking support for $1M in field replacement and repairs this spring; another $3M in following years

Above: A new, lighted turf field at Neary is just one of the projects Recreation hopes Town Meeting voters will support. (Image cropped from Southborough Recreation’s Master Plan)

[Editor’s Note: I confess that I’m really behind on reporting Town news. The following post comes out of the Board of Selectmen’s meeting from two weeks ago – not last night’s.]

The Recreation Commission is pursuing plans to rehab athletic fields and facilities. The commission is looking to fund over $4 million worth of field projects in the next few years. And they alluded to what’s sure to be an even bigger ask down the road.

But members and supporters are adamant that work is desperately needed. They pointed to too limited access for youth sports to fields in poor conditions that only get band aid fixes.

Two weeks ago, the commission presented selectmen with their 2-5 year plan. The short term came out of their newly developed Master Plan. Members explained that extensive study and months of work went into that longer term strategic plan.

Based on the needs of the Town and the small amount of property at their disposal, Recreation focused on their current field footprint. The plan calls for repairing grass fields, adding a turf field, reconfiguring some areas to add more full size playing fields, and more lighting.

In the presentation, member David Candela acknowledged issues with projects approved at prior Town Meetings. That included the news that the bid on the 911 field returfing was being sent out again. So that project is up in the air.

Candela also acknowledged the upset caused by problems at Choate Field due to lighting issues. And he said that Fayville Playground won’t open until Spring.

[Editor’s Note: That is the first public announcement I’d heard since the promise of a soft opening in October/November, with final touches not done until the spring. I followed up with Recreation Director Doreen Ferguson who blamed the holdup on “manufacturing delay and design”.]

Candela said that to avoid repeated issues, the commission promised that going forward:

  • No projects will move forward without full funding. All projects will require a general contractor who will provide project management
  • Additional contingencies will be added to projected costs to cover for unpredictable cost increases
  • Funding for design plans will be requested and completed before costs requests for footprint redesigns or significant facility additions

Public commenters supported the need for improved fields with impassioned speeches about access to safe, enjoyable recreation for children in Town. That included one comment that led to a tense exchange. 

Southborough Youth Soccer field coordinator Jared Bouzan told explained that he has to walk fields before games and cover rocks with dirt. He called the fields a ticking time bomb, warning a child is going to be injured if something isn’t done soon, and some already have been. Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf demanded clarification that Bouzan wasn’t allowing kids to play on unsafe fields. 

There was back and forth ending with Bouzan explaining that whenever problems are found, Public Works is notified and fixes them. He was followed by Colin Hynes also from SYS who clarified, that due to general field conditions, “sometimes we don’t know safety issues until they happen.”

The commission plans to ask 2018 Town Meeting voters for over $1 million to fund field projects for next summer. It’s part of more than $4 million they need for projects through summer 2020. 

Selectman Brian Shifrin, who served as the commission Chair until his election in November, asked people to keep in mind that spending on fields isn’t just about fields:

I think if there were members of the EDC here they would explain how important in general having good recreational facilities have impact on quality of the town and effects what people want to live here and do business here.

Referring to the project to put turf on Neary field, he acknowleded the expense. But followed that it has potential for income, in kind donation, sponsorship or licensing with clubs to help offset it.

Representatives from soccer and lacrosse thanked the commission for working with them to understand their needs when developing the plan.

Advisory member Sam Stivers was less enthusiastic. He said he supports the need for recreation, but questioned the Commission on why Advisory wasn’t informed of coming projects last year. 

Stivers pointed out that Advisory formed a subcommittee on the Town’s debt capacity prior to the Special Town Meeting on the Public Safety Building. Members asked all the departments and committees to let them know about any capital projects coming up. Based on their findings, they reported to voters on the Town’s ability to fund the Public Safety Building without increasing taxes. But that report didn’t include major expenses from Recreation.

Commission member co-Chair Kristen Lavault couldn’t answer directly on what happened in the past. But members said that the Master Plan was contracted for planning and transparency. They wanted officials and residents to have a better picture going forward. 

Yet, Rec’s presentation that night only highlighted projects through 2020. It didn’t share that Rec hopes to pursue building an indoor center within 5-10 years. That only came out after BOS Chair Dan Kolenda pushed that he hoped they were looking into one.

The commission referred to the presentation as the beginning of a dialogue. Lavault said the commission does plan to present a more detailed presentation to the public in the future. 

Selectmen were very supportive of expanding recreation. But there were also questions on details and requests for follow up. That included working with the schools on issues around their properties and working through budget issues with the Town Administrator and Finance Director.

There were also questions about the impact of a turf field at Neary School on the annual festival Southborough Summer Nights. (One impact was more expensive fireworks. But that’s not a taxpayer problem, since the event is funded through sponsorships.)

For a look at the presentation provided to selectmen that night, click here.

In response to selectmen’s request, Rec’s Master Plan was also made available online. But it’s a lot to look at – 147 pages. So, I pulled out some key highlights worth looking at. Below are some images of recommended field projects.

Recreation field footprint part 1 Recreation field plan part 2 Potential turf field at Neary Potential fields at Lundblad

*Note: Based on the discussion at the School Committee meeting in November, it sounds like the recommendation to expand the Trottier track to allow a full size field in the middle wasn’t doable. That impacted the plans for fields – which means the more recent plan included in the presentation to selectmen for short term plans is the more accurate version.

Updated (12/7/17 10:48 am): I fixed the Master Plan link.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Neil Rossen December 6, 2017 at 10:40 PM

I must admit that I’m getting a little tired of the constant requests for more money from fairly narrow interests. Is a moratorium on property tax increases ever considered?

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2 Mike Fuce December 7, 2017 at 8:49 AM

I agree with Neil and school population in town continues to decline the town, the younger population is aging and off to college, why are we building more fields? I’m for recreation and turf fields and lights but I think Neil’s right , recreation isthe building their own recreational silo.

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3 Rob December 8, 2017 at 7:35 AM

I don’t think that accurate. I see kids all over the place in my neighborhood. There’s a new wave of kids replacing those leaving.

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4 ktp75 December 7, 2017 at 10:01 AM

“Yet, Rec’s presentation that night only highlighted projects through 2020. It didn’t share that Rec hopes to pursue building an indoor center within 5-10 years. That only came out after BOS Chair Dan Kolenda pushed that he hoped they were looking into one.”

This is misleading, one could infer from this statement that the rec commission had an alternate “secret” agenda. I was at that meeting, Dan Kolenda mentioned that Hopkinton has one and maybe it is something we could consider long term, the rec commission agreed and it is something on the long term agenda to look into. Nothing more, nothing less. Why not look into it? It would be a community center, with LOTS of alternate uses. We could always say no right? The intent of that meeting was really to focus on the immediate needs.

And this isn’t adding more fields, its improving the disastrous condition that the fields are in today. I also don’t agree that this is a narrow focus. A very large % of town people use these fields, directly or indirectly. Seeing the surrounding towns facilities, there is a huge gap in what Southborough offers. The Rec Commission isn’t asking for anything extraordinary, just to be kept at parity with other towns. They did a really nice job.

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5 beth December 7, 2017 at 10:48 AM

I immediately followed the statements you quoted with:
“The commission referred to the presentation as the beginning of a dialogue. Lavault said the commission does plan to present a more detailed presentation to the public in the future.”

I wasn’t saying they are trying to deceive. But I was indicating is that given the criticism from an Advisory member about a history of not doing a good enough job of informing the Town about potential future plans, it seemed relevant.

They created a plan for a long term vision. But they chose to take first steps in communicating their plans with the public by focusing on the shorter term goals. They chose to leave talk about long term goals for a later, unknown date. I think it is fair to assume that if the question wasn’t raised by someone it wouldn’t have come up that night.

On a related note, I realized in reviewing the story that one of the links was wrong. The link for the master plan had linked to the 2-5 year presentation made that night. I fixed it. You can find that here: http://www.mysouthborough.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/2017.11.02-Southborough-Final-Package-Revised-Study.pdf

Anyone interested in the idea of a future community center can find more on the consultant’s recommendation on page 121. (Basically, they state that Southborough needs more indoor space. They recommend implementing a planning process to identify the best size and location, and a specific needs assessment and what a center should include.)

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6 beth December 7, 2017 at 2:30 PM

As I’m watching the discussion from this week’s meeting on the Public Safety Building, I learned that Advisory’s debt capacity subcommittee was told by rec that they may want a combined community/senior center in the future. So, it was just the field projects and additional lighting that were new to Advisory.

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7 SB Resident December 7, 2017 at 11:40 AM

My major concern is that I assume as is the case with 911 field, that the turf will be off limits for general rec. This space is probably the most used general rec space in town. How would this effect school recess, extended day, summer camp all of whom use that space for general rec.

It is great that rec has a master plan, even if it seems a bit ambitious from my view, but it feels like the town as a whole needs a master plan where town, schools and rec come together so all the pieces fit together. I’d feel a lot more comfortable voting yes on these pieces as they come if I understood how they fit into the larger scheme. There are just so many questions and possibilities that I’d hate to see us get locked in to something without considering the whole picture.

Are any of these fields possible sites for a new senior center, for this indoor center, maybe a public pool, a new school (what is the long term plan for Neary)? Is the golf course really going to stay a golf course? I’m skeptical. Could that land become a rec complex? I’d hate to spend money on fields that we just rip up later.

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8 beth December 7, 2017 at 1:22 PM

Any field on the school grounds will be available for school use. At least that’s what the commission told the school committee, and given that it’s on school property I doubt they’d have a leg to stand on about prohibiting the school’s use.

As for other “general rec” limitations, it’s a good question for the commission. But you shouldn’t assume that all of the 911 field restrictions would automatically apply to other turf fields. My understanding is that the rules of 911 field are due to the state owning the property and the terms of the Town’s lease agreement.

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9 resident December 7, 2017 at 10:08 AM

Uh-oh I see another $30M+ building in our future. Hold onto your hats!!

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10 Arborist December 7, 2017 at 1:57 PM

I would like to ask how many people from rec. live in southborough ? don’t want names , just a number. will follow up when that number is given.

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11 beth December 7, 2017 at 2:04 PM

Do you mean the commission? All the volunteer members are residents. They have to be. As for employees, they don’t have that many people working in the department. I do know that the Dept. director is a resident.

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12 Arborist December 7, 2017 at 4:03 PM

Thanks Beth, The point I was trying to make was if they didn’t live in southboro they could care less about our tax bills rising, However if they do live in southboro I hope they realize that they are going to raise their own taxes by submitting that huge request.

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13 concerned resident December 7, 2017 at 3:40 PM

Hello SB’ers

Be careful what you wish for (and have to pay for). For any BOS member to easily endorse a $1MM price tag for recreational fields in this precarious economic environment to F@#$%^^king crazy. First run tbe numbers, list priorities, put aside rainy day funds and then consider spending on ‘nice to have’ off budget items. I am all for this IF we go in with eyes wide open. Consider:

— U.S. tax reform bill yet to be enacted? Lower amounts of fed $$ coming back to States and communities? Yes.

— U.S, economy is on brink of a major corrections. Stock indices up 30% this year, but avg. corp earning only up 3%. This is the hallmark of a bubble, folks. When they pop, companies contract, lay offs occur and town revenues go down.

— What about the elephant in the room…. er i mean the Taj Ma-Public Facility Project? We dont even know the final cost on that thing….

Please BOS, stop to think and please stop even considering an indoor athletic facility. I know its close to XMas but Santa wont be coming to fill the town’s stocking. Taxpayers have to

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/02/losers-senate-tax-bill.html

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14 Matthew Brownell December 8, 2017 at 5:26 AM

Well, I’m sure that an ask of $ 4 million for upgrading athletic fields will raise many eyebrows from Southborough taxpayers, and catalyze some hard-nosed discussion on what constitutes a “desperate need” , vs. a narrow, shoot-for-Mars spaceshot by the Rec Commission and padded fluff contained in Southborough’s “Athletic Master Plan”.

If there are Southborough athletic fields that present a safety hazard (exposed rocks on the playing surface) to kids, then by all means, budget for the addition of loam, rake-out, and re-seed. But we’re a VERY, VERY long way from $4 million.

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15 Sobo Resident December 8, 2017 at 9:08 AM

I agree that we need to be thinking about this more broadly as someone mentioned, how does it fit into the overall plans for Neary since some of the fields they are referring to are at Neary and what type of complex should we be thinking about longer-term (pool, indoor, senior center,etc…). I’m supportive of the need to upgrade the fields as these provide outlets for children in the town to be outside and exercise and this will continues to give the different programs time options to keep kids active which is a worthy goal. People sometimes forget that a lack of investment over time leads to needing more money in large chunks like what we are talking about here, which is why we are where we are with many things in town….including the safety complex which voters overwhelmingly approved.

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