Watertown residents will have access to new athletic fields to be built by Buckingham Browne & Nichols School on Grove Street, while the school will be able to use fields at next door Filippello Park as part of an agreement approved by the Town Council Tuesday night.
Two full-sized athletic fields, a field house and parking for about 80 vehicles are planned for the 6.1 acres of land that BB&N plans to purchase from Mount Auburn Cemetery. The land directly abuts Filippello Park on the Grove Street side of the park in East Watertown.
BB&N recently entered into a purchase and sale agreement with the Mount Auburn Cemetery. Tuesday night, the Town Council voted to enter a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the field sharing agreement with the school. The agreement would last 20 years, with an option of extending it another 20 years.
Town Manager Michael Driscoll said the sale and agreement, which was first presented to the Town Council a year ago, is a unique opportunity.
“I believe this is a very exciting opportunity for partnership with both of the non-profits, but particularly the one with BB&N that will increase the open space for recreation and exercise,” Driscoll said. “And I believe this is an excellent public/private partnership that is beneficial for both residents of Watertown and BB&N.”
Under the agreement, the Town of Watertown and BB&N will each be responsible to maintain and upkeep their own respective fields, Driscoll said.
One of the focuses of the MOU is when each group would have access to the other’s fields.
The school will use the new fields during the afternoons, and Watertown residents will have access in the evenings and weekends, said BB&N Head of School Jennifer Price. The school will use the fields on a few Saturdays, Price added.
The agreement will also give BB&N access to the fields at Filippello Park in the after school hours and all-day during the preseason for sports in August and March.
Price added that she is aware of the school construction projects in the Watertown Public Schools, which may impact BB&N’s use of Fillipello Park.
“We understand Watertown may need to use Filippello Park during construction, and we will be completely flexible with them there,” Price said.
Price said she envisions the border between the BB&N fields and Filippello Park being seamless, and she said there will not be a gate to keep people off the school fields when not being used by BB&N.
(See more details of the field sharing terms below).
Town Council President Mark Sideris said the agreement will benefit Watertown by adding more places for recreation.
“I think that knowing the difficulty we have here with fields and scheduling, this is going to help significantly with that in the future,” Sideris said. “One key point to Dr. Price’s presentation is there is not going to be any gates to this facility. If no body is on the field you can walk on the field. I think that is key, integrating them as one big recreational facility. I am sure there are going to be other cities and towns that are going to be envious of us.”
Angeline Kounelis, the district councilor representing East Watertown, said the parcel owned by Mount Auburn Cemetery has been eyed by other developers, including one that wanted to build “hundreds of housing units” there. She said this proposal pleased her.
“This is tremendous news. Open green space brings vitality and young people to the neighborhood,” Kounelis said. “As I have said, it is not always about the money. This parcel could be developed and bring in a lot of money for the coffers of Watertown, but I think this is just tremendous.”
BB&N plans to install artificial turf on the two playing fields, Price said.
“Given the amount of use there — we are really talking a partnership where we are using these fields seven days a week between BB&N and residents of Watertown — the only way to make those field to be used at that level, at that intensity is to have it synthetic turf,” Price said.
Councilor Tony Palomba commended Cemetery officials for choosing to sell the property to BB&N, rather than other groups interested in doing other types of developments there. He added that he is concerned about having synthetic turf on the fields. He noted that when the Town considered renovating the track area of Victory Field many residents opposed having artificial turf there due to health concerns. Town officials agreed that grass would be installed. The town has a synthetic turf area on the football/baseball area of Victory Field.
The BB&N fields will also have lights installed on them. Price said they will follow Dark Sky compliant lights, similar to what is being installed at the playing fields at Filippello Park.
Historic Home and Uses
Currently, the property is leased to Mount Auburn Hospital, which uses it as off-site parking. That lease is due to expire at the end of October 2021.
Historically, the property was a country estate where “prized horses” were kept, said Marilynne Roach of the Historical Society of Watertown. In the early 20th century the property was purchased by the Shick family (one of Watertown’s first Jewish families) and turned into a dairy farm. The Shick family lived in the High-Style Italianate house, until 2002 and the house still stands on the site.
Roach said the home is one of the few of that style in Watertown and its interior features detailed plasterwork, a carved staircase and carved stone fireplaces. The Historical Society urged that the home be saved, and perhaps used as offices or a bed and breakfast, Roach said.
“The Town’s architectural, agricultural and cultural history is what house represents. Once lost, it cannot be replaced,” Roach said.
Price said BB&N needs the entire 6.1 acres to fit all the fields, the field house and parking it needs for the facility, so it does not plan to keep the Shick House.
“I do want to make the offer, and I know that Mount Auburn Cemetery made the same offer. We are more than happy to gift, to give the Shick House to the Town of Watertown, and to anyone who wants to have it in order to restore it,” Price said.
Several things still need to happen before the fields, and the agreement, become a reality, Price said.
BB&N seeks to sell Buckingham Field, near Fresh Pond, to the City of Cambridge, which is scheduled to be considered on Jan. 5.
The school must also do environmental studies, appear before the Watertown Historical Commission (possibly in January).
The school must get bonds approved, and the BB&N Board will have to officially approve the purchase of the land.
The purchase and sale agreement calls for the closing date to be Jan. 29. Price said.
If that all happens, construction could start on Nov. 1, 2021, Price said, with the goal of being completed by the spring of 2022.
Field Sharing Terms
The section of the Memorandum of Understanding about the field sharing terms reads:
The School will allow the Town of Watertown use of its 2 playing fields on the Property as follows:
- Monday through Friday from 6:00pm to 10:00pm.
- Saturdays from 8:00am to 11:00am and 5:00pm to 10:00pm except for a limited number of pre-agreed Saturdays for all-school events (such as Homecoming).
- All day Sundays.
- Use during other outdoor seasonal recreation periods, such as fall and spring off season periods, summer periods and other dates, when the property is not used by the School.
The Town will allow the School the use of its 2 playing fields on Filippello Park as follows:
- Monday through Friday during the Fall and Spring athletic seasons from 2:00pm to 6:00pm (The BB&N Fall athletic season starts the week before Labor Day weekend and ends the week of Thanksgiving. The Spring athletic season starts the first full week in March and ends the week after Memorial Day).
- We understand there are some current users of Filippello Park who have been using the park for at least 2 years before the date of this MOU. In these circumstances, BB&N will end its practice at 5:15pm on the dates that overlap with the historical dates that those users had traditionally used the park.
- The week before Labor Day weekend and for one full week in March (when the School has Spring Break and teams practice additional hours) from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
- Non-exclusive use of its playgrounds and spray park at Filippello Park during BB&N’s summer camp weeks as scheduled.
See the documents from the presentation made by BB&N by clicking here.