Officials from the Town of Watertown and Buckingham Browne & Nichols School enthusiastically touted a proposed public-private partnership involving playing fields in East Watertown, Tuesday night. There is one major hurdle, however — the land is owned by the Mount Auburn Cemetery.
At the Town Council meeting, BB&N Head of School Jennifer Price outlined the proposed partnership involving a new playing field complex the private independent school would like to build on Grove Street in exchange for the school having access to fields at Town-owned Filippello Park.
Under the proposal, Watertown residents would be able to use the fields on weekday evenings, on weekends, and during the summer; while BB&N would have use of the Filippello Park fields in the hours right after school, as well as, two weeks in August and during the school’s week-long March break.
The land is owned by Mount Auburn Cemetery, which is currently taking bids to sell the property. It sits across Grove Street from the cemetery, and is next to Filippello Park. Currently, it is being used as a parking lot, and used to be a cement plant.
BB&N submitted a bid in October, and Town Manager Michael Driscoll and Town Council President Mark Sideris co-signed a letter supporting the sale to the school because of the partnership.
Price acknowledged that the school’s bid will need some assistance.
“We will not be competitive with biotech equity,” said Price. “Hopefully we can demonstrate this is a win-win situation, and hopefully the cemetery will see it as a win.”
The deadline for final bids is Nov. 26, the list of finalists will be announced Dec. 4, and the Mount Auburn Cemetery Board of Trustees will meet on Dec. 12 to discuss the bids and possibly make a decision.
David Barnett, President and CEO of Mount Auburn Cemetery, was not at the meeting, but followed the discussion. He said there are many considerations that must be made by the Trustees when making the decision. He stressed that they must look at what works best for the Cemetery.
“We appreciate the interest from BB&N in our property on Grove Street. We can also appreciate the public/private partnership. There are many factors that are included in a sale of this magnitude. Some, but not all, were voiced last night,” Barnett said. “The Cemetery’s Board of Trustees has very long-term objectives that we are considering, including a long-term ground lease instead of an outright sale. We will do what’s best for the future vision of our institution and at the same time hope it works for the Town and the neighborhood.”
Price gave some details about what the school would do with the land. She said the school needs more facilities, and has 25 percent fewer than its peer schools.
A drawing showed two fields, as well as a small field house which would be no taller than two stories, Price said. The drawing shows the fields lined for football, soccer and softball. The 19,000 sq. ft. field house would have two stories with locker rooms, team rooms and a study area. There would also be 80 parking spaces.
Town Councilors unanimously voiced their support of the plan. East End Councilor Angeline Kounelis said it would be a great use of the land, which has been propose to be used for other purposes, including as a residential project that was proposed 12 years ago. She would like to see the partnership become a reality.
“When I first heard about this I thought, ‘This is wonderful!'” Kounelis said. “This would be great for the community at-large, the East End and those who travel the area.”
Council President Sideris said the partnership would help the Town meet a big need.
“We are always hearing about children in this community not having a place to practice or play, and our (high school) students sometimes do not get home until 10 p.m. (after practice),” Sideris said.
He added that “I will be the first one to stand in front of a Town board or commission in opposition to a large development on this property.”
Councilor Anthony Donato agreed that a large development would be a bad choice for the property.
“We just finished election season and some things we heard were slow development and do something about traffic,” Donato said. “I can’t think of a worse place for another big development. Traffic on Grove Street is terrible.”
He added that this may be one of the last big pieces of land in Watertown that could be converted into recreational space.
Other Councilors said they would love to see the partnership become a reality. Councilor Susan Falkoff suggested that the Town Council send its own letter in support of the public/private partnership.
Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli said that the case for the land being sold to BB&N could be helped by residents sending letters to the Mount Auburn Cemetery Board of Trustees.
Barnett said letters can be sent to “Attn: David Barnett” by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to 580 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge, MA 02138.
Town Manager Driscoll said he hoped the vision will become a reality.
“This is beyond an exciting opportunity,” Driscoll said. “This is a win for the Town, a win for BB&N, and we need Mount Auburn Cemetery to make it a win for everyone.”