[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.
- The consultants’ key findings and issues
- The consultant’s recommendations and priorities (short and long term)*
- Images of field footprints throughout town and some of the projects outlined for near term development – click thumbnails below
*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.