Annual Town Meeting: GonkPlex

Algonquin is asking Southborough (and Northborough) voters to approve funding "overdue" repairs, updates and improvements to its outdoor athletic facilities

Above: The NSBORO administration has been making a hard push to turn out the vote in favor of its big capital project. (image from Algonquin website)

One of the big Articles on Saturday’s Town Meeting Warrant is #15, a request to allow a close to $8M project to renovate Algonquin Regional High School’s “aging & out of compliance athletic facilities”. Borrowing for the project would be bonded over 15 years and split between the Towns.

In most years, the average homeowner would expect to have $87 added to their tax bills per year. A companion Community Preservation Act (CPA) Article (#14) seeks to reduce Southborough’s tax burden by $250K. But I couldn’t get any estimates on how that would impact projected tax bills.

Updated Tennis Court plan images from presentationI wrote about the project in January, explaining the rationale for why it is needed and what it includes. But there are some updates worth adding. The number of planned tennis courts was reduced from 9 to 7. That change provides them with the number of tennis courts they deemed needed while also allowing for adding pickleball courts and outdoor basketball hoops. (See image right.)

I followed up recently with Southborough’s Co-Chair of the Algonquin Athletic Complex Committee (and member of the Regional School Committee), Paul Desmond. I asked about the CPA funding impact.

My concern was that the CPA funds would be used to reduce the total bond for the project. And the bond payments will be split each year between the towns based on a rolling 4 year student enrollment percentage. (That will help avoid any sudden shifts in a single year.) I asked if Northborough isn’t committing an equal CPA amount, how could Southborough voters be sure that the reduction would come from our side of the payments as promoted? (Some voters will recall that disputes over how to split the debt for renovating the high school led to a lawsuit that Southborough lost.)

Desmond answered:

If the CPA funding goes forward, the Town of Southborough will develop an inter-municipal agreement (IMA) with the Town of Northborough to outline the process. The District’s financial advisor and bond counsel will help develop the terms. This process will be aimed at addressing your other questions, about if one town uses CPA funds and the other doesn’t, and avoiding the sorts of past disagreements you reference.

The project includes installing turf fields, touted as better drainage and the lack of necessity for “resting” fields. But there are community members who have publicly worried in the past about potential health issues with turf.

Southborough’s Board of Health asked to hold a joint meeting with Northborough’s Board of Health to ask questions about the plans. That took place in January. In a presentation, NSBORO’s consultant explained that the turf would use “envirofil” as the fill in the turf rather than crumb rubber. Reasons include worries some have that the rubber crumbs may be cancer causing. The TPE-coated sand also is cooler than the rubber. The fields will also have a shock pad layer to improve protection against concussions.

Envirofill from GonkPlex presentation to joint Boards of Health Turf field slide from presentation to BOHs

In the Southborough board’s next meeting, the board voted to support the turf fields.

Another interesting fact raised in the turf presentation — The school will be able to plow snow from the fields using a special blade provided. (A thin layer of snow would be left on top of the turf, but that would speed up melting if snowbanks are still thick towards the start of spring sports.)

This week, I shared news that the Advisory Committee is advocating to hold off on voting for the bonding until a future Town Meeting. Their rationale is that the Town should first increase its CPA surcharge to increase the amount of funds that take advantage of a partial state match, and reduce the tax burden. However, the letter doesn’t specify what project elements would be included in a future CPA Article.

When the school initially approached Southborough Community Preservation Committee, they proposed requesting $750,000 in CPA funds. There was concern expressed about the remaining fund capacity. But the CPC didn’t vote at that time. They asked the applicants to come back with details of what elements in the project would meet the legal requirements for CPA funding.

When the administration came back, it was with a $250K request for the Tennis Courts (with pickleball and basketball). The CPC approved bringing that to voters. No other elements were presented and rejected.

You can read a letter co-authored by Desmond urging voters to support the project. You can view the presentation planned for Town Meeting here.

Updated (3/24/23 3:38 pm): I forgot to mention one interesting dynamic. Town Clerk Jim Hegarty has been trying to get the word out that Northborough families can’t just show up to our Town Meeting, to support or oppose the Article.

Apparently, in Northborough, you don’t have to be a Northborough voter to attend their Town Meeting. That isn’t true for Southborough. Some non-voters on a list pre-approved by the Town Moderator are allowed to enter Southborough’s hall. At the start of the meeting, the Moderator then asks voters’ permission for them to stay. Those are mainly Town employees who live out-of-town and members of the press.

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