To the Editor:
On Thursday, September 11th the Watertown Recreation Department hosted the first of two required public meetings regarding Phase II of the Victory Field renovation project. Roughly 100+ project stakeholders attended the presentation, including our Town Manager, local elected officials, high school varsity coaches, Victory Field abutters, and residents from throughout the community.
After hearing presentations from the Recreation Department and project consultants, attendees were invited to speak and ask questions to gain a better understanding of the draft proposal. A majority of attendees shared their concerns with the project team; most referencing the economic, environmental, and health impacts related to the proposed synthetic turf that would replace existing natural grass within the track. Several attendees did speak in favor of the proposal, citing the increasing demand for appropriate practice times by Watertown High School athletic teams.
During the forum, Recreation Department Director Peter Centola confirmed to me that the fundraising efforts of Phase I have concluded with only 20% (roughly $300,000 on a $1.5M target) being raised. The project, we were informed, is now being paid entirely for by monies borrowed by the town due to the fact that, according to Centola, “the fundraising goal was too ambitious”.
As a taxpayer, I strongly oppose the use of Capital Improvement Program (CIP) money or any other funding to be allocated directly from the town to pay for the improvements proposed in Phase II or Phase III. It is unreasonable for our town to abandon the original fundraising plan of Phase I, while simultaneously requesting additional dollars to continue the Victory Field project. Furthermore, after hearing confirmation from the consulting firm that synthetic turf surfaces will need to be replaced every 8-10 years, I strongly oppose the use of this turf in place of the current natural grass that takes up roughly 80,000 square feet of open space in Watertown.
During the presentation, a locally produced video titled, “A Day in the Life of Victory Field” was shown to the group of attendees. The short movie highlighted the usage of the current complex by residents of all ages, sports teams, and recreation programs. This film confirms to me that our current field is complete and does not need further enhancements, apart perhaps from resurfacing the track and tennis courts. Our community should instead be investing in our current recreational resources to ensure that we maintain our existing infrastructure. For example, tennis and basketball courts at Arsenal Park, along with courts at the Hosmer and Lowell School parks could all use updating to address cracks and breaks in their surfaces.
Our town could also benefit from taking a look at enhancing current fixed assets and investing much needed capital into the two closed branch libraries that have been vacant and declining in appearance since 2006. Our community leaders can learn from the many stories shared by residents regarding their desire to maintain the existing natural grass at Victory that has become an informal meeting and play area for children and the Watertown Recreation Department hosted the first of residents of all ages. Our town should learn from our financial errors of previous years, where funding for local services such as adequate public safety staffing and educational enrichment opportunities for all students are unavailable due to flighty spending practices. Employees from our hard-working fire department have been without a new contract for over five years. Our town will need to continue borrowing money in an effort to enhance and improve roadways and sidewalks. Students of all ages are being put into overcrowded classrooms in buildings that desperately need renovations. Only a few short months ago, our town confirmed that we do not have the financial resources being requested by our school department in order to meet the increasing needs of our student population. Our Health Department is without a Director, during the period of a serous and alarming opiate epidemic. The existing J.A. Ryan ice rink is in need of updates and improvements in order to create more revenue for the town. Will dollars for these services be available if we approve a loan order for the current Phase II proposal?
I sincerely hope that a compromise can be made between the Department of Recreation and all invested members of the community. Athletes of all ages and genders should be allowed fair and appropriate use of the existing turf at Victory. After speaking one-on-one with various head coaches in town, it is clear that our current model does not allow for all teams to schedule practice on the turf at reasonable times of the day. While this needs to be addressed by the school department, I do not support the renovation project known as Phase II in its current form. I sincerely hope that the Phase II project committee reconvenes to develop a new site improvement proposal that will benefit all residents and families. Additionally, the project committee must include resident representation, rather than continuing to draft plans with only town employee representation.
As a community, we must become more socially and economically responsible in all of our decision making and planning. Phase I construction should not have proceeded without first a). acquiring the necessary fundraising capital in advance of construction, b). finalizing usage plans for all sports teams within our town, and c). weighing the priorities and immediate spending needs of the community. While we cannot change the past, we should certainly learn from it by going back to the drawing board and developing a proposal that addresses the desires of all invested parties.