Obstacles complicate projects for Choate and 911 fields

Above: Projects to maintain major recreation fields in town have not run as smoothly as hoped. (photo left by Joao Melo, right by Susan Fitzgerald)

Two projects voters supported for youth recreation in Town have run into major problems. One is the rehabilitation of 911 field, Southborough’s only turf playing field. The other is a first delayed,* and now drawn-out, lighting project at Choate Field.

The problems at Choate will have a big impact on soccer again this fall. New lights installed at the field aren’t working due to incompatibility issues with the electrical service.

That means that Southborough Youth Soccer can’t hold practices there after sunset. With limited field space and many teams in town, that’s an issue.

Meanwhile, the project to replace turf at 911 field is going to bid soon. Depending on what comes back, the field could be temporarily closed later this season for the work to start. That would further impact soccer this season.

However, it is now feared the costs to proceed with the 911 project will be too high. If that turns out to be true, the field would stay in play this season. But it would have much longer term implications for both soccer but for other Town sports.**

Currently, Recreation Director Doreen Ferguson is reaching out to both Fay and St. Mark’s schools for help. She is hoping to secure time on some of their fields for Town soccer this fall.

Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan updated selectmen and the public earlier this month on those projects and other issues. I followed up with her and Ferguson for more information and the current status. 

Southborough Wicked Local beat me to the punch writing about 911 Field problems. So I’ll defer to them on most of those details.

The turf field project has required a major effort by many people in Town to get it past bureaucratic hurdles. Now that the red tape was finally cut, one more problem jumped up. SWL writes:

Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan told selectmen earlier this month that the project requires drainage work, which was discovered after digging test pits. The town only approved enough money to replace the turf.

“When we did the test pits we found that the project wasn’t built the way we had been told,” she said. “It really doesn’t drain at all.”. . .

“We are going out to bid for the project now and we’ll see what we get back,” she said. The process will take about six weeks.

If bids come back higher than the $700K budgeted, the Recreation Commission will have to reevaluate the project. For more details, see the full story.

As for Choate Field. . .

New light poles are installed at Choate Field (photo by Beth Melo)Fields were closed while lights were built in the spring and trenches dug for wires. The new lights are up, towering high over the fields. When lit, they should provide sufficient lighting for night games and practices on all the soccer fields at Choate. But months later, the lights aren’t in service.

Referencing the project, Galligan told selectmen:

To say it’s not going smoothly is a real gross understatement.

Galligan’s written update explained:

Unfortunately, the Choate project has stalled due to an issue with the electric service. I am not an electrician but my understanding is that National Grid (NGrid) no longer provides new
480V/200A services on single-phase lines. We were running the lights, temporarily, off of a generator, but that generator has been removed and the lights are currently not powered. The Engineer, Electrical Contractor and Recreation and DPW are working with NGrid to find the best service option.

I learned this week that National Grid is now working to build a transformer for the lights. That will hopefully be completed by the end of September. That will then need to be installed and lights rigged to work. After that, some work will need to be done to repair the fields.

Ferguson doesn’t expect any of that to interfere with soccer’s daylight use of the field. But she can’t promise when lights will be operational. So, she has informed Southborough Youth Soccer not to rely on the ability to hold practices or games at Choate after dark this season.

As for how this happened, Galligan gave a brief explanation to selectmen. She indicated the entire project should have been managed through an outside engineer instead of trying to save money by managing it “locally through department heads”.

She said the problem stemmed from a rushed project in reaction to a pole that fell at the field. When they determined other poles needed replacing and were a liability issue, there was a panic to “just get something”. She followed, “Just doing something doesn’t, obviously, ever work in this town.”*

The Public Works head reassured these issues won’t repeat with upcoming field lighting projects. (In other words, the projects approved by Annual Town Meeting voters in April to light Mooney Field, Neary Tennis Courts, and the Fayville playground basketball courts.) Those budgets included funds that will allow Public Works to contract an “engineer to design and stay through the whole construction process.”

*The initial timeline had Choate lights up and running in time for the start of soccer season in Spring 2016.

**911 field is also used by increasingly popular lacrosse. And when 911 isn’t in use, lacrosse and soccer have greater need for other town fields, which overlap the outfields of some baseball diamonds.

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6 years ago

Without any ill will or intent to demonize, this is simply another example of the public sector failing to deliver on something the private sector would have taken care of, Karen Galligan admits this herself.

I can’t wait to sit in a DMV-like line for my government run healthcare…

Kelly Roney
6 years ago
Reply to  Southviller

The private contractor on the 9/11 field apparently cut corners.

Joe Kacevich
6 years ago

The contractor worked with the materials on site at the time. He, like other contractors, donated his time and equipment pro bono. What I believe Ms. Galligan is referring to is the fact that the test pits revealed that the soils are not suitable for the type of drainage system that is being proposed by the design firm that has been retained by the Town.
All of the site work related to this project, including the fencing and the nailer board to which the turf is attached, was donated by local contractors. The turf was purchased with a $200K grant from the State of Massachusetts. The field did not cost the Southborough taxpayer a dime and has served the community extremely well.

Kelly Roney
6 years ago
Reply to  Joe Kacevich

Thanks, Joe.

Louise Barron
6 years ago

The contractor cut corners. Who hired the contractor. Too many mistakes that inevitably cost the tax payers. How many bids have been taken for the 911 project. Knowing this town, they take the highest bid.

Mike Fuce
6 years ago

Concerning Woodward Field: I/we do this type of electrical engineering review for a living. We do not make rudimentary mistakes like this (private sector). I can honestly say no on does, not of this magnitude or basic review. The very first thing that is done in an electrical site review is the feeder service (electrical company). And in that review anyone who has an once of facilities management knows you can not run 3 phase 480/208 volt lighting/electrical off of a single phase feed (we would have more ubiquitous solar coverage everywhere). Although not as efficient, they should have ordered single phase 120/240 volt lighting fixtures – this can still be done. I am guessing and this is conjecture on my part I fully admit, the lighting fixture company should have know this but that is where the government (non-private sector) comes into the equation and the incentives used for the job by the lighting fixture company came though your electrical company line item surcharge/tax on your bill for government sanctioned incentives and quasi government companies (electrical company and electrical incentives and electrical fixture supplier) supplying the lightning fixtures. All they had to do is look at the feeder pole and the cable on the street and there is a single phase ngrid electrical feed to the school and field (very normal). I am not blaming anyone but was there an electrical engineer on site to review the site? To those who donated their time and money mentioned above for both fields, thank you very much, we appreciate it.

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