Packed hall overwhelmingly approves GonkPlex project

Above: Voters were sold on the project to repair and improve Algonquin’s crumbling (and ADA non-compliant) outdoor athletic facilities. (images from presentation – top row of current state, bottom of overall plan)

On Saturday, proponents of athletic facilities improvements at Algonquin got over the first of the two big hurdles for funding the close to $8M project.* Southborough Town Meeting voters approved authorizing the school to incur the necessary debt.

Payments by each town will be based on a rolling student enrollment percentage over 4 years. Taxpayers in Southborough are expected to be responsible for just under $3M of the project.

Updated Tennis Court plan images from presentationPrior to taking on the big ask, a much smaller Article to use $250K of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for Southborough’s portion of the Tennis courts, Pickleball courts, and an outdoor basketball court. (That is meant to be deducted from Southborough’s share of the bond payments.)

Al Hamilton asked if the school had a team. Martineau responded that the sport is part of the school’s phys. ed curriculum.

After that Article quickly passed, Superintendent Gregory Martineau presented the overall GonkPlex project. He overviewed the issues with outdoor sports facilities past its useful life. Issues included compacted soil fields, drainage issues, crumbling surfaces, facilities that don’t meet ADA compliance, and insufficient lighting.

GonkPlex Tax Impact slide from presentationThe Superintendent shared a projected break down of the annual payments, which will be lower than bond payments for the school’s big renovation in ’03-’05, which will close out in 2027. Unfortunately, that will be a tough fiscal year since it coincide with the first full annual payment for the new bond.  (See slide right.)

Martineau explained that they tried to avoid the blip by pushing off the project. But given the crumbling state of the athletic infrastructure, they couldn’t postpone the ask any longer.

There was a good turnout from families there to support the GonkPlex. (Including some in an overflow area in the cafeteria.) But I’m not sure the Article could have passed without also getting support from enough of the voters attending for regular Town Meeting business. (Though I was surprised to learn that only a majority approval is required for the school to incur debt the Town has to pay when 2/3 is required for the Town to do the same.)

proposed amiphitheater from GonkPlex presentationSome voters asked for more information project cost details. Claire Reynolds said she supported the repairs needed but raised concern about sharing the cost of a $1M amphitheater in Northborough. Martineau clarified that it was only estimated at $133K. [Editor’s Note: The presentation had broad categories of costs listed rather than itemized expenses. $1.8M is for “Multipurpose Field w/ Lights & Amphitheater”.] Martineau explained that the committee added in it in effort to make the outdoor space welcoming to the wider community, including for arts.

Upon request, the Advisory Committee Chair Andrew Pfaff explained their 4-1 vote against the bonding Article. He said they were looking for the Town to first pass an increased CPA surcharge to take advantage of more matching grants from the state.

Later, Capital Planning Chair Jason Malinowski commented that his committee had thoroughly vetted the capital project, including the cost and tax impacts. He followed that following Advisory’s plan would add uncertainties about the time it would take to get a surcharge change passed and whether ballot voters would approve adding the 2% to their tax bills. In the meantime, project costs could increase.

Robert Reeder asked about the life of the turf field vs the 15 years of paying off the bond. Martineau answered that the turf life is 12-15 years and that they have plans to collect facility rental fees to fund longer term maintenance of the project, like replacing the turf.

Referring to NFL teams that are upgrading turf fields due to safety issues, Tim Fling asked if the school looked at that data to ensure they were picking the right quality turf. Martineau responded that they chose the same version as the Tennessee Titans will be installing. They are also using shock pads and envirofill instead of crumb rubber (read more here). Later, District Physician, and Southborough Board of Health member Dr. Sadar Medina told the hall that there are conflicting studies, but a properly maintained turf field poses less risk than a hard to maintain grass field.

Among the voters in support were two ARHS seniors who wont get to “reap the benefits”. They asked for Town Meeting help their lower grade peers (too young to vote).

Jack Battles highlighted that at least two ARHS teams essentially don’t have a home field because of drainage issues. He reported that his lacrosse team is forced to use 911 field in Southborough, the only available turf field in either town. That’s fine for him, but doesn’t feel it’s fair to Northborough teammates. And Field Hockey has to use ForeKicks in Marlborough or 911. 

Senor Ben Schanzer said the track team is running in the streets if it has recently rained in the past day, bumpy fields cause soccer balls to change direction, and referred to tennis courts as “shattered” as though a 50 lb ball everywhere dropped.

ATM votes in favor of ARHS Capital projectThe hall overwhelmingly voted in support. Now the district will focus on convincing Northborough voters to support the request. Northborough’s Annual Town Meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 24th at 6:00 pm.

*I have seen some references to a $7.9M project, but I didn’t think it was appropriate to round down the $7,960,393.

Updated (3/29/23 9:39 am): Just adding the detail that 490 voters were registered for the afternoon session.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
  • © 2023 — All rights reserved.