Letter: Please support Warrant Article allowing town to resurface 911 field (user fees will cover costs)

by beth on April 8, 2014

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.

The letter below refers to this week’s Recreation Commission meeting that wasn’t posted when I wrote Monday morning’s list of town government meetings. The town now lists the meting for Thursday, April 10, 7:30 pm in the Recreation Office at South Union Building, 21 Highland Street. Click here for the agenda.

If you would like to take a look at the Warrant Article in question, click here to see the Town Warrant.]

To the Editor:

I am writing to ask for support for warrant article #29 which will allow the Town of Southborough to resurface the 911 Memorial Field located on land owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (“DCR”). The field was installed in 2002 and is just about worn out. Last fall, the Southborough Recreation Committee voted not to resurface the field, primarily because they did not believe there was enough user interest in keeping the field and also because they did not think the revenue from field rentals could pay for the resurfacing costs. Recreation is not the “bad guy” in this discussion. Many things have changed since their initial decision in November of 2013 and I believe they should reverse their decision. That’s where we need the help of all sports users in Southborough and everyone else who understands just how important the living 911 Memorial is to this town and all the kids who play sports at that field. Understand that not one child who plays on that field today is old enough to remember 911! Every day that kids go to that field, some child asks their parent what 911 means. A parent told me his son asked him that question just last Sunday.

Here’s the background on this saga. Although my three kids are all adults and are now scattered throughout the world, I still volunteer to coach kids. Participation in sports helped shape the character of my kids. Good sportsmanship = good character. As a former member of the Recreation Committee, I know a lot about the history of the 911 Memorial Field and a lot more than I ever wanted to know about turf field construction and maintenance! After Recreation made their decision, to close 911 Memorial Field, I looked into this issue quite a bit and I asked my neighbors to sign a citizen’s petition which allows the voters at Town Meeting to decide this issue. That’s how article #29 got on the Southborough Town Warrant.

On March 31, I presented my findings and recommendations to the Southborough Advisory Committee which voted unanimously to support this article at Town Meeting. The warrant will authorize the town to acquire a bond up to $600K to resurface the 911 Memorial Field with all costs for the bond to be repaid through user fees. 

Here’s the plan in a nutshell – Raising User Fess Covers All Costs to Replace the Turf

Just like a carpet in your home will eventually wear out, the turf at 911 Memorial Field is nearing the end of its anticipated useful life. We need to replace that turf in the summer of 2015.

Many people in town do not know that every team using the 911 Memorial Field pays an hourly fee to use the field. Those fees are collected in the 911 Revolving Fund that is approved each year at Town Meeting. The balance in that fund today is $72,000 and does not include revenue from spring 2015 rentals.

It will cost approximately $600,000 to $650,000 to replace the turf. There will be approximately $140,000 in the 911 Revolving Fund in June 2015 and that money can be used towards the cost to replace the turf. That means the town will have to borrow approximately $500,000 via a 2.9% bond to finance replacing the turf.

The Simple Solution

If we raise the fee for youth teams from $45 to $65 per hour and raise the rate for club teams from $65 to $100 per hour, the user fees at 911 will more than cover all the costs to repay the bond and all the future maintenance expenses, AND that will leave an extra $127,000 left to use towards a replacement field in 15 years!

There have been significant developments since Recreation made their November 2013 decision:

1) When Recreation made their decision, they did not have detailed bids available. Also, an initial offer to get the turf donated or installed at a much reduced cost fell through. I have detailed bid numbers from 2 companies who have installed many turf fields, one less than $600K and one is above $600K.

2) Actual bond rates are much lower than estimated in the fall (2.9% versus an estimated 4%) which dramatically lowers the cost to borrow funds. (Provided by Town Treasurer)

3) Raising user fees will pay 100% of the cost of the bond and also pay annual maintenance expenses, field grooming, landscaping, port-a-potty, etc. Essentially, the rates charged for all users at 911 have been way too low. St. Marks charges $110 and Forekicks charges $175.

4) DCR previously would only sign a 5 year lease for 911 Memorial Field. I recently discovered that DCR now has agreements in place for a 20 year lease with a 10 year renewal option for a turf field in Watertown on the Charles River, and another location north of Boston. Rep. Carolyn Dykema helped me verify these 2 items and she offered to work with our Senator to help sponsor legislation for a similar lease with Southborough. That is HUGE because the town needs to take a 15 yr. bond and some folks expressed reservations if the town gets a 15 yr. bond but only has a 5 yr. lease that the town may incur a potential liability if DCR won’t renew a 5 yr. lease. (Since we’ve already had 3 renewals of a 5 yr. lease, I think it’s very unlikely they wouldn’t renew a future 5 year lease, even if we couldn’t get a 15 yr. lease.)

Pilot Payment

When the initial 5 yr lease was signed, there was no user fee for 911. When DCR agreed to allow the town to collect a small fee from users to offset maintenance fees, at the last minute, DCR demanded that the users also pay back to DCR a fee which they said represented the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) payment that DCR pays Southborough for that land. I was on the Recreation Commission at that time and I fought it and asked the Selectmen to fight it and I was told by then Selectman Phaneuf that town counsel did not want to re-open the PILOT agreement so the Selectmen would not sign the contract unless the users paid the fee. So the users had their back to wall and had to pay extra fees to pay to DCR, so Southborough could keep the extra money. What a crazy situation where money stays in one pocket of the town, but the users have to pay for that money the town keeps! Well that fee is now $9,900 per year. That is a 31.4% increase in 5 years! It makes no sense! Why do we have to pay DCR a fee to use the land for Recreation? The R in DCR stands for Recreation!!!

At best, payment of this fee is a political issue that the Selectmen and our State Representative should fight. Nobody in Southborough government blinked an eye when DCR raised the fee by 31.4%. Nobody asked why, and nobody even verified the figures! At worst, the Selectmen can simply transfer the over-payment from the PILOT payment back to DCR to eliminate this.

Baseball and Soccer Fans Take note:

If we lose 911 field, there are only 2 full sized fields in Southborough: the field next to Neary that is so wet that Southborough baseball no longer uses it and the only other place is to use the outfield area at Mooney which obviously will be bad for baseball since they cannot play games while kids are playing soccer of lacrosse in their outfield. Also, the smaller Lundblad field on top of the landfill is in rough shape with the landfill membrane expose in places so that should be shut down and repaired.

If you are a soccer supporter and 911 is closed, your use of Neary or the Mooney outfield be very limited in the spring because lacrosse, as a spring sport, will gets first dibs on that field space.

The bottom line is we can get this done BUT we need the support of all the town athletic supporters to make this work.

This is important:

Even if the voters at Town Meeting on April 16 town meeting approve warrant article #29, the Board of Selectmen have the right to NOT go forward on the project. Technically, article #29 only authorizes but does not compel the Town to borrow funds to resurface 911 Memorial Field so the Selectmen could decide not to move forward. The Selectmen will listen to the opinion of the Recreation Commission which has already voted unanimously to get rid of the field but they will also listen to you the voters!

If you want to keep the 911 Memorial Field, you need to really push to get as many of your fellow Southborough voters to attend the Recreation meeting at 7:30pm on April 10 and make your voices heard. If we get 50 or 75 people to attend we might make quite an impression. We need to convince the Recreation Commission that there really is a town wide demand for this field and ask then to change their vote.

Then, we need to get as many people as possible to attend Town Meeting to support article #29. Town Meeting starts on April 15, but article 29 is the second to last item so it will not come up for discussion until the second night of Town Meeting, on Thursday April 17.

Look – I understand that the vast majority of people in town avoid these meetings at all costs. Somehow, we’ve got to explain to people that if they do not invest an hour at the April 10 meeting and the Town Meeting on April 17 then 911 Memorial Field will close in 2015.

Please get as many people as you can to attend the Recreation meeting on April 10 at 7:30pm at 21 Highland Street in Southborough.

Once we get over that hurdle, we can work on getting people who normally do not attend Town Meeting to attend on April 17.

Thanks for reading this!

Jim Hegarty

1 Southville April 8, 2014 at 11:00 AM

I might be alone here, but does anyone else think that 9/11 is a strange name for a sports field for kids? I see the desire and need to remember 9/11, but it seems like a more appropriate decision might have been a separate 9/11 memorial somewhere, or naming the field after a victim or survivor. It feels odd to have a tragedy be the first thing on everyone’s mind when they go to watch a youth soccer game. We wouldn’t have a “Cancer Field” or “Marathon Bombing Playground”, even though victims in those cases should be remembered an honored.

2 911 Memorial April 8, 2014 at 1:33 PM

There is a nice memorial on the far side of the field, check it out.

3 SB Resident April 8, 2014 at 11:25 AM

It will be a sad day if the field closes. I have never stepped foot on the field myself but strongly feel that parks and rec is a vital part in creating a desirable and thriving community. Whenever I drive by this field it is often in use, proving to me that the community IS getting a benefit from it, and it is baffling to me that a recreation committee would be against this. (I guess I need to hear the opposing arguments but money can be the only issue and my math makes it seem like a drop in the bucket)

Unfortunately I do avoid these meetings at all costs (town meeting is awful) but I do urge the selectman and committee members to understand that there is support for this field.

4 Joe Kacevich April 8, 2014 at 1:06 PM

Southville,

The field is on state ( DCR) property. The field was originally to be named ” Acre Bridge Road Field.”

The DCR and Southborough Board of Selectmen agreed with the suggestion from the Southborough Recreation Facilities Committee that the field should honor the 212 persons “with ties to Massachusetts”who perished on 9/11/01.

The inscription on the momument, authored by Southborough resident Marty Healey, says it all:

” In memory of those with ties to Massachusetts, lost on 9/11/01, with the hope that the spirit and strength of the children who play here reflect our own will to carry on . We will always remember.”

In the wake of the Marathon bombiings, that inscription becomes even more poignant and meaningful.

5 Paul Cimino April 8, 2014 at 1:58 PM

Our Town’s excellent public spaces (memorials, parks, playing fields, open space, etc.) are vital to what makes Southborough a town to envy. In my mind there is little doubt that 911 Memorial Field is one of many of those important public spaces, and if we can save it at little/no cost to the taxpayer, then that surely seems an easy decision. I would prefer that we get the extended lease we need from DCR before we actually incur the bond obligation, but beyond that I believe Mr. Hegarty has put together a great plan here. I look forward to supporting this Article.

Paul Cimino

6 Al Hamilton April 8, 2014 at 2:12 PM

I agree with Mr Cimino

I think it is important to iron out the lease issue first but if we can keep and reasonably control this asset for little or no money out of pocket this is good for the town.

I have asked Mr. Hegarty for a financial package to review but in the past the Rec Dept has done a good job of managing its affairs on a paying basis with only modest contribution from taxpayers so they deserve some slack.

Thanks also to Mr. Hegarty for championing this effort.

7 Raquel Morales April 9, 2014 at 8:08 AM

My family lives in Southborough. My son plays Lacrosse and loves the game. We take pride knowing there is a turf field in town where his team can practice and have their games. If you’ve ever seen the enthusiasm our Lacrosse players have when they lift their sticks as a team you wouldn’t close the field! Having the 911 turf field close would be sad for so many current Southborough young athletes and those younger children who will play in the future! Keep the field open!! Southborough needs the 911 field!

8 mike fuce April 9, 2014 at 9:34 AM

Oh it just burns me when people write in without putting their name up and complain about the field being named 911. We will never forget our friends that died that day in September or 2001! There should be more awareness to our children of the dangers of these muslim religious extremists. The violence and cowardice was at the hands of muslim religious extremists and it is still happening around the world every day. That being said, great job putting together a plan to save the 911 turf field. We need one a the high school as well. Sports keeps kids out of trouble. Lets get more involved!

9 SB Resident April 9, 2014 at 5:02 PM

Well detailed from Jim, thank you for that. A missing piece to all of this – our sports organizations. The question I have is what is the commitment for this field from our sports organizations? My understanding is that when approached, none of them including Lacrosse committed to the field which makes the revenue numbers presented speculative at best. The demand and support needs to be there.

10 Robert Flynn April 9, 2014 at 11:36 PM

I want to make it perfectly clear that the youth lacrosse program here in town fully supports the 911 Field. I am not sure where the person who chose to not sign the note saying otherwise got their information, however it is completely incorrect. We view the 911 Field as a valuable and much needed resource that the town needs very much, and we fully support doing the necessary things to not lose this resource. We urge the Recreation Commission, the Advisory Board and the Selectman in town to recommend and to vote to keep the field. If Southborough chooses to close this field it will be a devastating blow to all of the youth programs in town.
Robert Flynn
Founder and President, Northborough-Southborough Youth Lacrosse

11 beth April 10, 2014 at 8:34 AM

I believe it was based on the reason behind the original decision to close. At that time, the Rec Dept said that youth sports weren’t interested in fundraising or increasing field fees to keep the use.

More recently, Jim Hegarty has said that youth sports didn’t realize that there weren’t enough fields in town to absorb that use. He said that once youth sports realized they would have to go out of town (and pay higher fees there) they were willing to pay higher fees to keep the field.

The reason I didn’t answer that to the commenter asking – was that Hegarty’s explanation is that he didn’t cite commitments from any leagues – so I didn’t know where things currently stood with any specific leagues.

I would encourage that if any other leagues are in support of 911 field they also share that information with readers, as you did.

12 JMO April 9, 2014 at 11:49 PM

I am a little confused. ” The balance in that fund today is $72,000 and does not include revenue from spring 2015 rentals.

It will cost approximately $600,000 to $650,000 to replace the turf. There will be approximately $140,000 in the 911 Revolving Fund in June 2015″.
Here’s where my confusion comes in: The field has been around for awhile. The math somehow doesn’t add up. If the current balance is $72K, but in one year we expect that balance to almost double, where has all the money gone from previous years? I mean what other expenses have occurred? Obviously, putting down turf every 10 years or so, is not enough to keep this field operational. I have serious reservations about sinking more money into a field that doesn’t appear to get that much use. I often drive by an empty field. How do we know current use rates will continue once fees are significantly raised. While it may be true that other fields in town (I believe St, Marks was mentioned) charge higher rates, what is the competition from surrounding towns? Parents with kids in travel leagues are use to driving. What’s to say they will stay with this field when the rates are more in line with others? I have real reservations about the town having to pick up the slack if the numbers don’t go according to plan.

13 Raquel Morales April 10, 2014 at 8:53 AM

I am cutting and pasting the comment I submitted yesterday

“My family lives in Southborough. My son plays Lacrosse and loves the game. We take pride knowing there is a turf field in town where his team can practice and have their games. If you’ve ever seen the enthusiasm our Lacrosse players have when they lift their sticks as a team you wouldn’t close the field! Having the 911 turf field close would be sad for so many current Southborough young athletes and those younger children who will play in the future! Keep the field open!! Southborough needs the 911 field!

14 Doreen April 10, 2014 at 1:01 PM

JMO, it wasn’t until 2008 that DCR allowed us to charge for use of the field. And even then it was a minimal fee. The field has heavy usage from about 2:30 – until dusk and full on weekends. There is a yearly pilot fee we pay to DCR and a maintenance contract so expenses are in the range of $11,000-$12,000.

15 JMO April 10, 2014 at 11:54 PM

Okay, thank you for that information. But, if fees have been charged from 2008, that means over the course of 5+ years, we have saved $72K. It has also been asserted that by next year (June 2015) we are supposed to have almost double that amount. (5 years we save $72K, but in one year we will have ~$68K additional. ??) The math just seems odd. I can’t account for the difference even taking into account higher fees. And, concerning the usage, someone must be able to provide the number of hours per year the field is in use given the fact that teams pay to play. I see activity there, but I am not sure I agree that it is heavy during the week or booked solid on weekends. Again, just my anecdotal observation. I don’t have any data.

16 David Parry April 10, 2014 at 1:45 PM

AN ANECDOTAL HISTORY OF GETTING STATE APPROVAL FOR 9-11 FIELD.

Many of us were shocked to read, last Fall, that the 9-11 field was being abandoned! I called Joe Kacevitch, the ONE leading man who put it together, and he gave me the sad story. But now, six months later, we have reason to rejoice because again it is ONE leading man who is taking the lead and is going to save it That man (Mr Heggarty) needs all our praises and all our votes.

When this 9-11 field was first thought of, 15 years ago, there were many, seemingly insurmountable issues, particularly the very tense and strained relations between the Town and MWRA (now DCR). My own involvement at the time was as the Selectman assigned to the task of getting State approval. As it turned out, that task turned out to be even harder than I expected. Let me tell you that story, briefly, because it is indicative of how Southborough sometimes fails to gets its priorities straight .

There were strained relations with MWRA over many issues, including loud noise from a state police rifle range (since closed due to lead pollution), and complaints about lack of public access, etc.. But something else was the main problem and that did not surface until months later. We spent countless meetings seeking approval at one level or another. We started by talking to local MWRA officials, based at their new offices below the dam (off Rte 30, just across the town line in Framingham). We met a rock of resistance. Those State bureaucrats just said no, right off the mark, andthey would not budge. They considered the recreational use to be inappropriate to their mission and their land, and in particular they were concerned about the possible environmental impact a new playfield might have on the watershed.

But as we progressed thru these issues, there always seemed to be something else not being spoken. Well, after numerous meetings and coffees, the reason finally emerged. And it was quite unexpected. The reason for non-cooperation by MWRA was because certain Southborough officials had made a big issue that MWRA was not paying local property tax on their vast land holdings in town (about one third of the entire town is State reservoir and forest watershed). It was the age-old issue of “Payments-in-Lieu-of-Taxes” or “PILOT”. The issue was so controversial, that I was the sole town official who felt it was appropriate (and absolutely essential) to attend the MWRA’s 100 year anniversary of the building of their main dam (just off Rte 30 in Framingham), and the creation of the reservoir … because this was a VERY significant occasion for the MWRA , who laid on a lavish affair with dinner, set up in tents below the dam, with many renowned speakers, etc.

The MWRA officials were fearful of being insulted by Southborough and it could have been unforgivably embarrassing. It was a beautiful summer day and the reservoir looked magnificent. When they saw me, they were so relieved that they asked me to join their speakers at the head table. After the meal, I was asked to speak, which I was certainly not anticipating. But when it came to be my turn, I simply told them what I still believe to this day :…..

Southborough owes the State our eternal gratitude for saving one third of our town, as forest and lake. You have provided a green jewel of majestic beauty, raising our spirits every time we drive by. You have given us the LUXURY of having thousands of acres of reservoir and forest protected forever, within our town. Thank you for not asking us to contribute toward its maintenance, and thank you for allowing us to walk alongyour lovely forest trails. In fact, THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE, and I hope you stay here forever, and I don’t care if you never pay us a cent in “PILOT” taxes, because that is irrelevant to the huge positive benefit you provide our town, and the massive increase in property values that your mere presence provides. And congratulations on your centenary,

As it turned out, that was stroke of good luck, because I met the agency head, and made some serious friends. The agency head came out to see the proposed site of the 9-11 field , then he over-ruled his local staff, and ordered approval.

But the work I put in is miniscule compared to that of Joe Kacevitch and his committee who raised all the funds, tirelessly, to provide numerous recreational facilities throughout town.

And now the baton passes to Jim Heggarty to maintain an important piece of that legacy. May good luck go with him and may he win with a unanimous vote.

17 JIm Hegarty April 10, 2014 at 11:06 PM

I want to thank Beth for publishing my lengthy letter to the editor.

Also, thank you to the many commenters on this thread, both supportive and critical. I have learned form both!

Tonight, the Recreation Commission voted 3-0 to support this article at town meeting. 65 people attended the Recreation Commission meeting to show their support for this article. That is an outstanding example of democracy in action!

With such a lengthy process to research this issue and so much material to cover, it was inevitable that I would not state something clearly, so I would like to explain an issue that was brought up by Mr. Cimino (who attended tonight’s Recreation meeting) and Mr. Hamilton regarding the bond length and potential financial exposure/risk to the town.

Our town Treasurer Brian Ballantine has confirmed that we can only get the 15 year bond that I have proposed if we get at least a 15 year lease from DCR. And since DCR has a policy of only offering 5 year leases, we need the assistance of our state representative and senator to help the Board of Selectmen negotiate with DCR and to get legislation passed to allow at least a 15 year lease.

Remember, DCR has recently signed a 20 year lease for a turf field in Watertown on the Charles River and a second one north of Boston, and Rep Carolyn Dykema has offered to help us obtain such a lease.

This article simply gives the Board of Selectmen the authority to obtain a bond to resurface the 911 memorial Field. It does not obligate the town to pay a single penny. The Selectmen have the right to not go forward with this.

If they do go forward, and I sure hope they do, this bonding authority gives them a tool to use when seeking the assistance of our state senator and representative to negotiate a long term lease for the 911 Memorial Field with reasonable terms.

There is absolutely no risk to the town by voting to approve this article.

I ask for your support at Town Meeting. We need a very strong showing at town meeting to convince the next Board of Selectmen to push this project through. It will not be an easy task!

Thank you for reading this.
Jim Hegarty

18 Anna April 11, 2014 at 10:23 AM

Thanks to Jim for a rational approach to saving 9-11 field. My child is constantly on the soccer fields in Southborough and traveling to games in surrounding towns. Area towns seem to be adding turf fields rather than closing them down. Medway for instance hired a consulting firm Gale Associates to assess the town’s field needs. They have 20 fields and need four more according to the consultant’s report. They are in the planning process for two new fields to be turf fields. If we looked at current field conditions and usage in Southborough, along with the fact that we have an existing field location only in need of replacement turf, it really seems like an easy yes to proceed with replacement turf. They should choose a quality type like they have at ForeKicks- that stuff is expected to last 15 years and is a wonderful playing surface in any weather. We certainly would pay our fair share for usage fees as needed to fund this.

Also, please ask our legislators to consider proposing lights. DCR has not allowed them in the past. However, they would open up the popular evening hours to rental. Meanwhile, there are users there to “watch over” the property, rather having it vacant during the high demand evening hours. Please support 9-11 field at town meeting.

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