The Victory Field Committee made compromises when addressing safety of Victory Field by voting against having netting on the ends of the field, but the compromise also means that the track will be closed to walkers during certain times while high school teams use the field.
When deciding whether to put up the safety netting, the Ad Hoc Committee on Victory Field Phase 2 tried to balance the needs of athletic teams using the track and turf area inside with the needs of people using field as a public park.
For years the oval area has served as home to the Watertown track and field team, and the field inside the track is used by both high school and youth sports groups. The facility is also part of the Watertown park system, and the track is a popular place for residents to walk and run.
A proposal by designers at CDM Smith made two years ago, when the project was first discussed, includes netting at the ends of the field to protect users of the track from flying balls – particularly lacrosse and soccer balls. A long line of netting that was proposed to go around the arc of the oval closest to the football field, and a shorter line of netting sat behind the opposite end of the field.
On Monday night, Glenn Howard of CDM Smith brought a design that incorporates the latest safety netting setups used by high schools, colleges and other facilities. It would have 20 foot netting behind the soccer goal, then it would drop to 10 feet high and go across the entire length of the end line, and would go another 60 feet down each sideline. The extra netting along the sides protects people from shots at the lacrosse goal, which is located 15 yards off the end line.
Some people on the committee and from community said they do not like the idea of netting going up around the field, which is also use as a place for informal games, and by people using the track. Committee member Elliot Friedman said it would change the feel of the track.
“With the netting, along with the utility poles and cyclone fencing, the feeling of the area of more of a prison facility than a recreation facility,” Freidman said. “I think there are ways of mitigating this.”
Victory Field is about 90 years old, and it has been the main location used by Watertown High School sports teams. Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli, chairman of the Victory Field Committee, noted that several other parks and fields around town are used by WHS athletics, including Moxley Field, Arsenal Park and Filippello Park.
WHS Athletic Director Michael Lahiff said field time is at a premium, with so many teams wanting to use the turf at the Victory Field stadium/baseball area. The pressure will get worse in two years when the high school will start and end a half hour later. Teams practice and have junior varsity and some varsity games at the track oval, he said.
Some on the committee and residents at the meeting wondered why the sports have to be at Victory Field. Resident and former Council President Clyde Younger said he thinks Victory Field is overbooked.
“We have teams outside our community and playing interscholastic sports. Nothing dictates that they cannot play in other facilities,” Younger said.
Lahiff said that teams will come and play a varsity game at the stadium and the junior varsity game on the oval.
“I am fighting for my athletes and for them to have the same experience as athletes in every other town,” Lahiff said.
The netting is not to protect the athletes on the field, Lahiff said, it is to protect the walker on the track when the teams are practicing or playing games.
There was little support on the committee for the full netting configuration with the netting along the sidelines. The committee tried to come up with a compromise, and went through a few options.
One proposal was to have the netting only along the back end, and limit it to 10 feet in height, and not have the 20 feet tall section behind the soccer goal.
Mark Leonard, president of Watertown Youth Soccer, said that he does not believe that would work because the netting would not be high enough to protect people from errant soccer balls.
“If you are going to do it for safety, it should be the whole thing – it should be 20 feet,” Leonard said. “The compromise should be 20 feet or nothing.”
The committee then discussed options with no netting. One idea was to allow people to use the track but have a warning saying to use the track at their own risk of getting struck by a ball.
Councilor Tony Palomba said he was uncomfortable with that idea.
“If there are no nets we should limit people using the track during games and practices,” Palomba said. “We can’t expose a problem and then not address the problem. That opens you up to legal problems.”
Having no netting and still allowing people to use the track got support from less than half of the nine members. The option of having no netting and banning people from walking on the track by locking the gates during high school soccer and lacrosse practices and games got the support of 8 of 9 members. Recreation Director Peter Centola voting against it, and said he wanted the netting behind the net.
People will be able to walk on the track when the field is being used by younger lacrosse and soccer teams, the committee agreed.
Bleachers, Shot Put and Bocce
The committee also spent some time on other parts of the Victory Field complex. From the previous meeting, the committee had not decided what to do with the shot put area of the track. While there had been a variety of ideas discussed, the committee asked CDM Smith’s Howard to look at putting a shot put area in the same place but have a stone dust surface. They also asked to see if two bocce ball courts could be placed in the same area.
The bocce ball idea did not get a lot of traction.
“I like the idea of being creative, but I don’t think this works,” said Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon. “Bocce requires a flat, even surface and a shot put makes divots.”
Others agreed, and the committee decided to also scrap the stone dust surface and keep the area grass. However, the shot put circle (from which the athletes throw the heavy balls) would be repositioned and improved.
The group also discussed bleacher seating around the track. Currently there are enough bleachers to seat 90 people, but Centola noted that they are not bolted down so one set was moved over to the tennis courts. Sometimes they are also tipped over, he added.
The original proposal, made two years ago, called for seating for 420, with 120 on the track straightaway (closest to the tennis courts), and 300 on the side closest to Orchard Street. The number was calculated when the plan was to have an artificial turf field inside the oval and more varsity games would be played there, Piccirilli said.
Members said they did not think they needed as many sets of bleachers. Each set of three rows seats 30 people, and Leonard proposed having four sets on the Orchard Street side (instead of 10), and having grass where the others would have gone. The committee agreed unanimously.
On the other side, one proposal was to cut the number from four to two. Coach Tom Wittenhagen said the track athletes put their bags and sweats on the bleachers when they are practicing or competing, so he wanted to make sure there was enough room. He said he would rather have 90 seats, but could live with 60.
The committee suggested having some sort of storage lockers or bins put in place of two of the proposed sets of bleachers, but have seating for 60. Wittenhagen said that would work. The committee voted unanimously to have the two sets of bleachers and the storage bins.
The next meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Victory Field Phase 2 is Tuesday, July 25 at 7 p.m. in the Lower Hearing Room in Town Hall. The meeting will focus on lighting, the storm water system, perimeter walls and fences, and also items that were not covered at Monday’s meeting: parking and the tennis and basketball courts.