Advisory Committee Will Not Recommend Turf Field Project at Town Meeting
Foxborough's Advisory Committee voted 9-3 against recommending Article 6 of December’s Special Town Meeting Warrant.
When the warrant article for the proposed turf field project is presented at Town Meeting on Dec. 11, it will not have the support of Foxborough’s Advisory Committee.
Article 6, “Artificial Turf Field,” of the Special Town Meeting Warrant failed to meet the approval of the Advisory Committee after a nearly two-and-a-half hour discussion at Wednesday’s meeting.
“We would all love to say yes to this project,” said Advisory Committee chair Larry Thomas. “I understand the importance of athletics. [However], I don’t see how having a turf field is this quantum leap in athletic opportunity. … I’m not sure we can afford this with more debt coming down the pike.”
Ad-Com, citing several concerns with the timing and cost of the project, voted 9-3 against recommending the turf field article for the Dec. 11 Town Meeting.
“What swayed my vote more against this project is we can use the $1 million for Burrell or other projects we need,” said Ad-Com member Tracey Metivier. “I just think it is the difference between what we want to do and need to do.”
The $1 million Metivier is referring to is the remaining funds from the high school renovation bond, which would be used to help fund the $1,619,000 cost of phase I of the turf field project if passed at Town Meeting.
Voters at Town Meeting will be asked to appropriate $125,000 from the town’s overlay surplus account to help fund the turf field project in addition to using the remaining $1 million from the high school renovation project.
The majority of Ad-Com members believed that $1 million should be appropriated towards a future project like a new Town Hall or renovations to the Burrell School rather than constructing a turf field.
“Do we put this million dollars into a capital project or do we put it into a field?” asked Ad-Com member John Gray, adding the town’s “priorities should be academics over athletics and buildings over fields.”
Ad-Com member Jeff Anderson agreed, saying the $1 million high school renovation surplus should be put towards the Burrell School project, which Schools Business Manager Bill Yukna said is only in the beginning stages of planning.
“Surplus is good seed money for the Burrell project but now [it would be] going to the turf field project,” Anderson said.
One of the highest priorities on Ad-Com’s list is the Town Hall project, which Thomas said is a project that “needs to happen” and the $1 million surplus from the high school renovation project could be used.
“Let’s assume the Town Hall is the next project,” Thomas said. “This [turf field project] makes the Town Hall project $1 million more expensive.”
Overall, Ad-Com established several concerns with the turf field project that led them to vote against recommending it for Town Meeting:
- Timing of the project: Several Ad-Com members questioned whether the timing of the turf field project was appropriate given the need for other projects like Town Hall, Sewer and the Burrell School. Thomas said he believed the turf field project was being “driven by timing” of the $200,000 NFL grant that will expire in April if the town doesn’t approve the project at December’s Town Meeting. An additional $219,000 in donations and services would also be lost if the community rejects the turf field project. Superintendent of Schools Debra Spinelli said timing is an issue because of the little time remaining to obtain the $419,000 for the project.
- Priorities for use of the $1 million surplus from the high school renovation bond: Many Ad-Com members said they would like to see the $1 million remaining from the high school renovation bond used on another project like Town Hall or the Burrell School rather than on the turf field.
- Can the town afford the project long-term? Ad-Com members said they were concerned that appropriating funds to the turf field project now would have financial consequences down the road. “I think the debt is ridiculously high in this town and until we pay some of it down I would not build a Town Hall, I would not talk to the schools,” said Ad-Com member John Spinney. “When you really start looking at the larger picture you need to have a long-term forecast. [Debt] is going to peak. We are not done growing the debt.”
- Stadium complex vs. turf field: Ad-Com continued to point towards the turf field’s master plan (Phase II) of constructing a track, bleachers, press box, concession stand and bathrooms as a cause of concern because the price of the project increases from $1.6 million to $3.4 million. “We are staring at $60 million in debt,” said Anderson. “Is the topic we want a turf field? We want a field or we want a complex? I can probably sign off for two of those, I can’t sign off on a complex.”
While the majority of the committee opposed the project, three members voted in favor of the article for Town Meeting: Spinney, Larry Stern and vice-chair Paul DeFazio.
“There is so much going for this project,” DeFazio said. … “There’s a lot of people that have worked very hard on this … I’m focusing on the $1.6 million and not the $3.4 million right now. The town needs to know about the whole project. I think we can afford this first stage [of the project].”
Foxborough resident James DeVellis, who chairs the Turf’s Up community group responsible for the proposed project, said Phase I can be approved with no commitment to Phase II.
“I have not had any discussion or conversations about a complex other than at one school committee meeting,” said DeVellis.
While DeVellis has designed a master plan (Phase II) that would include a track, bleachers, concessions, a press box and bathrooms, the project being presented to voters at Town Meeting (Phase I) is adding a turf field for community use at the high school.
“The reason we are doing this is for the extra field … not [just for a] turf field,” said DeVellis. “We need more fields in town and you are going to get more bang for the buck with a turf field.”
Phase I will cost $1,619,000 with only $125,000 of that needing to be appropriated from the town’s overlay account to the project by voters. However, voting in favor of the project at the Dec. 11 Town Meeting means you also agree to appropriate the $1 million left from the high school renovation project to the turf field project.
Phase II of the project would cost an estimated $1,827,608, bringing the total cost of the turf field complex to $3,446,608. There is currently no proposed funding for Phase II as Turf’s Up is focused on Phase I of the project. Both Phase I and Phase II would require voter approval at separate Town Meetings.
Stern said he believed Foxborough getting a turf field is inevitable and the town should take advantage of “real money” obtained for the project through donations and the NFL grant.
“Some day we are going to have a turf field,” Stern said. “How can you say that we are not? So is throwing away half-a-million dollars [a good move]? That’s real money.”
DeFazio admitted after the long debate Wednesday that he was “flopping” his vote and choosing to support the project.
“I think part of being on the Advisory Committee is you have to take the whole town into consideration and bring your heart into it a little bit,” DeFazio said. “There’s a lot of people that have worked very hard on this. I’m still not in love with the $3.4 million especially after standing up at Town Meeting last year and saying no to veterans. That hurt. … But sometimes you got to use the heart a little bit and maybe [the turf field is] best for everybody.”
Foxborough resident Deborah Stewart agreed, saying the turf field will open the door to greater opportunities for student athletes.
“Many students probably would not go to college without athletics because they would not receive scholarships,” Stewart said.
Another proponent of the turf field project representing the town’s youth was Recreation Department Director Deborah Giardino.
“I see a real need for [more fields in the community],” Giardino said referring to the lack of field space in Foxborough. “We have to think about the kids.”
Fellow proponents explained why they’re in favor of a turf field in Foxborough:
- Creates more field space in town for community, which is needed for youth sports and recreation department: “With a turf field you are adding one to two additional fields in town,” DeVellis said. … “Phase I will benefit youth sports in town because they would have majority use of the field.”
- Potentially provides campus atmosphere at the high school: There was mutual interest between Turf’s Up and the School Committee to construct the field at the high school. DeVellis said it is the best location for community use because it would be constructed in a central location between the Igo School and Foxborough High School. School officials say it would potentially complete the high school campus and give students an on-site facility that is currently lacking.
- Catches Foxborough athletics up to other towns: Athletically, those in favor of the project say the turf will level the playing field for Foxborough’s sports programs because they will have the same access to a turf field as other Hockomock teams currently do.
- Creates community asset: DeVellis envisions this field as being an asset to the community and one residents will take great pride in. It will host a variety of athletic events and programs from youth sports to adult leagues.
- Takes advantage of grants and in-kind services that will expire: Perhaps one of the main drivers behind the timing of this project, Turf’s Up has secured $419,000 through donations and an NFL grant that expires in April to put towards Phase I of this project. The School Committee feels this is “a nice opportunity to take advantage of external funds,” said school committee member Bruce Gardner.
Outside of support from the school department, Article 6 failed to receive support from Ad-Com and the Board of Selectmen, which split, 2-2, on its decision to support the warrant article heading into Town Meeting.
However, the true vote will come on Dec. 11 when voters will have their collective say on whether a turf field will be constructed in Foxborough.
“Article 6 has become the focal point of Town Meeting,” Thomas said. “It is a contentious and emotional issue for a lot of people. This is the article that people are going to show up to vote on.”
Town Meeting is scheduled for Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Foxborough High School.