The biggest park on the Eastside of Watertown will receive new lighting at its two athletic fields after the Town Council approved funding for a project that has been in the works for more than a year.
The $1.3 million project at Filippello Park replaces the lights on seven poles at the Grove Street Field with LED lights, and adds four poles with LED lighting at the Arlington Street Field, mostly used for soccer. The project also replaces the scoreboard at the Grove Street Field, which is used for softball and soccer, and replaces the backstop and infield fencing at that field.
One of the impetuses for the project was the lack of lit field space in Town. The crunch is especially bad in the fall, when sports teams from the Watertown Schools as well as youth sports leagues seek field time. Town Manger Michael Driscoll added that there will be additional demand on fields because the field in front of Hosmer School, O’Connell Park, will be lost during the rebuilding of the elementary school, due to begin this summer.
The town had multiple meetings about the lighting project, said Councilor Anthony Donato, where residents saw a presentation about the light level spilling into neighboring homes. He said there was minimal spillage, according to the lighting consultant.
“The neighbors seem to be comfortable with all the lighting plans, especially after we were provided with the charts that show what percentage of light spills off the field,” Donato said.
East End Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she has been contacted by residents in the area of Filippello Park, and said that the plan is the same as presented to residents in July 2019, except that the level of the lighting at the Arlington Street Field was lower than originally discussed. She also heard from people worried about adult sports league players hanging around at night after games.
“The permitting will be until 10 o’clock at night and there will be a 15 minute grace period for players to exit the field,” Kounelis said. “If players linger more than 15 minutes the folks in the neighborhood will take note, because it’s not appropriate.”
Mark Leonard, who represents Watertown Youth Soccer, said he was in favor of the project because it would allow more players to practice and play games when sunsets get earlier and earlier in the fall. He added that the fields should be used for Watertown groups, not rented to outside organizations.
Councilor Ken Woodland said that he was part of meetings about field use in Watertown and said that the use by local groups accounted “high 80s to low 90s percent” of the time slots at the fields, and he did not think it was necessary for the Town to create a policy saying the fields were for local groups.
Former Town Councilor Aaron Dushku wrote a letter in support of the project, which he noted was in the works for many years. He said that residents living near parks feel the impact of the use of fields, and he believes this will spread the use out more across town.
Resident Elodia Thomas wrote a letter to the Council in which she said she wanted to make sure the project adhered to Dark Skies standards. She questioned why Grove Street Field was lit at a Level III standard, which was higher than that the Level IV for the Arlington Street Field. One of the criteria for Level III is that it allows for up to 2,000 spectators, and she questioned when that would be necessary.
Glenn Howard, project manager from CDM Smith, said that the crowd size is just one part of the criteria, and said that for the planned uses (which could include Watertown High School varsity games) he believed Level III was appropriate.
The project passed with a vote of 8-1, with the lone “no” vote coming from Councilor Caroline Bays. She said she worried about the Town committing to spending that much money while revenues from the state and local sources (hotel and restaurant taxes) are uncertain. She also said the Town may need to have other priorities due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the impacts of closing non-essential businesses.
“I am concerned that people have roofs over their heads and food on their tables,” Bays said. “I am just concerned if (the budget) allows for things like field when we need to be helping our residents. I am concerned we are spending on things that are not primary needs.”
Driscoll said that the project would be paid back over 10 years, with annual payments of about $132,082.50, plus interest (an average of about $164,700 with 4.5 percent interest). The total Town budget is about $150 million, Driscoll said, and added that delaying the vote would mean it would be difficult to finish the project by the end of the summer, in time for the start of school.
Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli said that he believes the Town can afford the project, and said the project and the school renovations are interrelated.
“We need to get this done this summer, because with the start of the whole school building project everything becomes a domino effect,” Piccirilli said.
See more details, including the presentation from the project manager and the estimated annual payments by clicking here.