Residents Sound Off on Victory Field at Boisterous Meeting

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An overhead view of the plans for renovating the track are of Victory Field.

CDM Smith

An overhead view of the plans for renovating the track are of Victory Field.

Well over 100 people made their voices heard during a volatile meeting about the proposal to renovate the track area of Victory Field. Many opposed the project, but the project had its strong supporters, too.

The Phase II project calls for adding more parking, installing a multi-use court that can be used for hockey and installing a new track. The items that seem to cause the most controversy include replacing the grass inside the track with artificial turf and the addition of lights around the track (See more details on the Recreation Department’s proposal here).

Glenn Howard, project architect with CDM, said the artificial turf would allow the field to be used earlier in the fall and earlier in the spring as well as later at night. It would also improve storm water removal from the field.

Mike Berry of Musco Lighting said that the lights proposed to go on the track would have hoods over the lights to prevent light shining directly into homes. The lights on the tennis courts will be on a push button system so they will only go on when people are using the courts.

The Recreation Department and project architects showed a video of all the uses of Victory Field, and presented information on the proposed project. Residents eager to comment on the proposal – mostly to express their disapproval – got impatient and asked to be heard.

A number of residents said they felt they did not get a chance to really express the concerns. Speakers were limited to two minutes, though some went over. A number of people called for a meeting where a real discussion could be held, not one lead by the town officials proposing the project.

Some comments got loud applause, while others got groans and even jeers. Recreation Director Peter Centola asked people to remain civil and respectful multiple times.

Project Supporters

People who support the project said the artificial turf would be a big benefit for not only the high school – which uses it for athletic teams and physical education classes – but for the whole town.

The tennis courts has cracks and weeds are growing up in these cracks. The rubber track has been slated to be repaired since 2006. Track coach Tom Wittenhagen said the team nearly had to forfeit two meets last year because of poor conditions of the track and field facilities.

Some of the Watertown High School coaches came to say a second artificial turf field would ease the jammed schedule on the current turf field. Field hockey coach Eileen Donahue said she and the other coaches spent three days trying to schedule games and practices for varsity, JV and freshman teams for football, boys and girls soccer and field hockey teams.

Boys soccer coach Frank Caccia said he often has to practice late because of the heavy use of the artificial turf.

“It’s hard to be an enthusiastic, supportive father when I am coaching from 7 to 9 at night. We all want to be off the field by 5:30 or 6, but the schedule does not make it possible,” said Caccia. He added that the artificial turf gives his team an advantage because they get used to playing on artificial turf, like other teams in the Middlesex League.

Football coach and WHS teacher John Cacace said ideally he would rather have natural grass field, but the artificial turf can be used much more without being worn out.

Concerned Residents

Many people who spoke live on streets right around the Victory Field complex, but others from farther away said they also oppose the project.

Bruce Coltin, who lives right next to Victory Field said the area is a neighborhood park as well as an athletic complex. He said the place should be available for everyone.

“Please go back to the drawing board and present something with trees and grass, something sensible that people can enjoy by themselves, in pairs and small groups,” Coltin said. “Not everyone plays for a team.”

Jesse Wallace, who lives across the street from Victory Field said the increase use of the football field, which had artificial turf installed in Phase I, has been problematic. He often hears young men yelling profanities and finds beer cans on his lawn in the morning.

He also said he doubts the promises of lighting being less intrusive.

“I hear promises about no light coming in from the new lights, but I get light coming into my house from the Musco lighting at the football field,” Wallace said.

Others said they get light from the football field, even though they live blocks away from Victory Field.

Bob Johnson, who is a past president of Watertown Youth Lacrosse and Hockey said that he supported the first Victory Field project and he backs this one too.

While he has sympathy for the problems people put up with living near the complex, he said, “The white elephant in the room – you all live near a field.”

Some worried about the safety of the artificial turf, which has ground up tires between the blades of grass. Howard said the manufacturers have made efforts to reduce the amount of lead, arsenic and other harmful chemicals.

Parents who use the complex with their small children said they worry that the improvements would make the area unfriendly for them. The artificial turf gets hotter than grass, and there are limits to the use of such a field.

Meghan Broadstone, who lives near the field and uses it for the little kickers program for Watertown Youth Soccer, for ages 4 and up. She added that she does not think the town should be spending money on artificial turf when the budget is so tight.

“Parents are not allowed on (the turf). We wouldn’t want that,” Broadstone said. “I wouldn’t want the proposal if it was free. It’s a negative for me.”

While artificial turf requires less time and money spend on upkeep than a natural turf field, some residents said they are worried about the cost of replacing the turf. Howard said they last between 8 and 10 years and cost $4-$5 per square foot to replace. With 80,000 square feet, that would be between $320,000 and $400,000.

A resident who works at Belmont High School said the turf was just replaced there at a cost of more than $900,000. The work also included installing a fence, repaving a path and installing a new track, and the construction bid came in at $815,000 according to this article on The Belmontonian news website.

Next Steps

After the meeting, former Town Councilor John Donohue, who lives across the street from the field, said that most of the project needs to be done, but some should be debated.

“The track has  to be replaced, the courts have to be replaced,” Donohue said. “They should discuss the (artificial) turf and leave all the other stuff on the table. The rest has to happen.”

A second meeting on the Victory Field project will be held on Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Watertown Free Public Library.

5 thoughts on “Residents Sound Off on Victory Field at Boisterous Meeting

  1. There are many aspects of the oval track area which can be agreed on: fixing the track, fixing the existing tennis courts/b-ball court and putting a turn around in. Most of the other items(lighting/artificial turf/parking) are not needed and should be discussed. The process itself is way flawed in that a)this has been in planning for many years and the residents nearby were not pro-actively asked about their concerns(this is not just for VF but other projects too), there should be a commission(who knew there was one and who is on it!) with abutters on the commission too…this is a community park not only used for athletics. We soon forget that there is 160,000 sq/ft of existing managed Artificial turf right there(not paid for or financially supported by fundraising as stated it would be). Also to the argument that people bought next to a park: they bought next to a community park many years ago..where the field hockey team would play there in the fall and there was football night games on the weekends(no lights every night, not leased out to sports clubs) so yes they bought next to a park not an industrial sports complex which has quite different standards.

  2. I believe this part of Victory Field (VF) was redone around 200o (please correct me if I’m mistaken) : the tennis courts, basketball court, track, field, and tot lot were all reconfigured. It was quite a project at the time. Something for everyone. And yes, it well used and loved by people of all ages. A great asset for the entire community.

    Who came up with the idea to turn Victory Field (VF) into what appears to be a regional sports complex with a big push for outside rentals without gathering community input? Who thinks it’s OK to kick kids off the field because it’s been rented to an outside group? Who has a clear picture of the scheduling issues given the other fields in Watertown? Is the new mantra, all teams must practice at VF at all times? Who is in charge of scheduling? Is there a grid schedule by team detailing who is using which field at what time for how long? How do five other towns cope with just one artificial turf field? Let’s really understand the issues.

    Digging into the Black Budget Book FY15 under the capital improvements section (FY15-FY19) you’ll see that $10.2 is listed for Recreation & Parks plus $275,000 for the skating rink. Of the $10.2 million, $5.35 mil is identified for VF. That seems like an awful lot of money slated for one park/field given the conditions of others in the community. Check out the schools number – $9,942.4 mil and this is before addressing the looming high school issue. Just trying to understand our priorities folks.

    Phase 1 cost over $3 mil. Let’s put aside the failed $1.5 mil fundraising campaign; it was a huge blunder given the plan and the times. But, let’s also realize that aside from the $300,000+ raised, we will still be paying for Phase 1 for many years. Phase 2 is slated at $2.65 mil at present, and Phase 3 (the Field House) at $2.7 mil. Is this an appropriate use of all our taxpayer dollars?

    Meanwhile: another gas line went on my street, another water line a month or so ago, my neighbor has a new sink hole in front of his house, our non-sidewalks have many “trip and fall” hazards that have been there for years, and another car crash occurred at the intersection of Common, Orchard, and Church. Here 39 years and still waiting for a sidewalk. How many of you are concerned about our deteriorating infrastructure? Come on folks, it’s a city-wide, state-wide, country-wide issue. But is that a good enough answer for us?

    I have driven around all the TC’s neighborhoods to look at their sidewalks and streets. Eye-opening to say the least. In canvassing the VF neighborhood, what I heard over and over again is – we need to fix our sidewalks and streets, water, sewer, and gas lines!!!!!! It’s a major safety concern and a quality of life issue for many residents. Walkability for all should be one of the best features about living in Watertown. The other big issue – taxes. Our homeowners have a lot of common sense. They know how to distinguish between “need and want”. The word “reasonable ” keeps coming up over and over again – in relation to park/field maintenance, school needs, and infrastructure repairs. Given that Watertown is roughly a 50/50 split between homeowners & renters, with many more rental units and developments coming on line, property taxes and traffic are looming concerns. The pressure on Watertown is fierce.

    We can all see that the tot lot needs repair and believe that the track should be properly maintained for the schools as well as all the residents that use it. Additional shade trees and benches – a big plus, workout stations for all ages funded by a grant – another big plus, and moving those ugly containers and getting rid of those stinky porta-potties – well now you’re really talking. But covering up most of the field with artificial turf, more paving, 28 parking spaces, moving the courts (again) to add a multipurpose court/hockey rink, losing precious green space/mature trees, adding more intense Musco lighting plus high nets – and increasing the rental of VF a to outside groups – the answer is a resounding No! We can do better. We have to do better.

    A group of residents have been working to address the issues of VF since April. We have expanded our group thru word of mouth, canvassing, Watertown FB groups, news articles, and meetings. We have reached out to all the TC’s, Town management, Trees for Watertown, the Storm Advisory group, the Conservation Commission, Watertown News, the Tab, and helped to promote a petition that has 340 signatures to date protesting the VF project as it stands now.

    This entire project needs to go back to the drawing board. Two minute sound bites at two public information sessions should not be seen as “the” forum for constructive discussion and nor as an adequate opportunity for community feedback. We need to stop repeating the poor communication and arbitrary decision-making of the past where blanket statements such as “this has to happen” or “this doesn’t need any further discussion” are considered acceptable. As far as I know, there are no Kings or Queens in Watertown.

    This project is not a done deal. The Council must vote to appropriate capital improvement bond funding for this project to go forward. But I urge them to think big – to acknowledge that VF belongs to the many, not the few, and thus the process and future outcome must be inclusive to be successful for the entire community.

    We all love Watertown. There are many talented, passionate, and thoughtful people, of all ages, who happen to have some great ideas for VF, which can benefit the entire community, at much less cost. I welcome the opportunity to talk with anyone – inventor, athlete, engineer, artist, nature lover, arborist, coach, parent, child, teenager – anyone who values VF- about the pros/cons and opportunities for Phase 2.

  3. Members of the Watertown community showed a strong, helpful presence at the Phase 2 meeting of Sep 11.

    Here is a summary of what we heard at that Phase 2 meeting:

    1. Phase 2 adversely affects not just the abutters but also the broader community extending from Waltham to Cambridge and Belmont.

    2. We need good cost estimates for the artificial turf. We heard Belmont’s estimate of $900,000 over a decade for each artificial field which amounts $180,000 per yr for Watertown’s 2 Victory Fields. The estimate of the Director of Recreation appeared to be too low. Watertown must not spend any money on new artificial turf. Spend it on better education for our children instead.

    3. Artificial turf is environmentally unsatisfactory. It’s smelly, poisonous for young children, hot and esthetically unpleasant similar to artificial trees.
    Watertown does not need artificial turf. Natural grass is much better.

    4. Tennis court lights are a nuisance to abutters. The lights need to be better directed toward the tennis courts and turned off earlier than 10 pm.

    5. The tax payers of Watertown require greater transparency on Phase 2. This activity must not be railroaded through back channels.

  4. I’m not quite understanding how this entire plan was put together without feedback from those in the community and the abutters being brought in the loop early on. I live on Common Street by the ‘crazy’ intersection. Makes me wonder if one day I’ll home from work and there will be huge stoplights in the middle of the intersection.

    For the next meeting, only Watertown residents should be allowed to have their 2 minutes….Opinions of people from Waltham or other town shouldn’t be considered and taking up time in the meeting.

  5. My apologies for not making it to the meeting.
    – To be respectful of neighbors, the town should have a general lighting policy just as it has a construction policy to limit sound during specified hours.
    – Lights should be directional and shaded to limit intrusion when they are on.
    – Victory field should remain as accessible to public use as it is today.
    – I prefer real grass. It smells better, feels better between your toes and contributes to overall well-being.

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