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.
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.
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.
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.