LETTER: Reconsider Using Moxley Field as the Site for the Temporary High School

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Ai3 Architects

A rendering of what a two-story modular building could look like on Moxley Field. It would be the temporary location for Watertown High School while a new school is constructed.

The following letter was originally sent to the School Building Committee and the Town Council:

The architectural firm working on behalf of the Watertown High School project provided the recommendation to build a temporary high school on PFC Richard Stephen Memorial Playground on Westminster Avenue. It is dedicated to our fallen hero who gave his life in Vietnam. Richie played on this field.

The proposal means the field will be bulldozed and cement laid for a parking lot for 119 cars and 33 modular two-story buildings for approximately 5-8 years.

As a participant and supporter of the PFC Richard Stephen Moxley petition letter of 4/20/21, I am requesting a written response to this letter, as well as the 4/20/21 Moxley petition correspondence — prior to any further disposition is made on this proposal.

I had made a request to the Town Manager to send a town-wide notification mailing with specific suggestions in having the Assessor Department send out to all residents paying real estate taxes and all residents paying excise taxes on their vehicles.

I am waiting for a written response from the manager.

As a former elected Watertown Councilor at-large, I served nearly three decades.

I tried and worked tirelessly to protect the interests of children, adults and the best for the community — including lobbying for the rehab of Moxley Memorial playground and irrigation system.

I believe you are continuing this tradition of looking out for the best interest of the people of Watertown. It is in this spirit that I am contacting you. We want the same children who will attend the new high school to also have a healthier future that includes access to green recreational open space and all its benefits.

First, it is requested that the City known as the Town of Watertown prepare and send mailing to all Watertown residents informing them of the proposal to site the temporary school on Moxley field and solicit resident feedback.

This park and field are an asset that means so much to the entire Watertown community particularly since the Moxley Memorial playground and field is owned by the Town of Watertown NOT the School Department.

In addition, zoning/assessor database assigns Moxley to open space conservation and as such should be protected from repurposing the field and land; under Article 97 of Commonwealth of Massachusetts Constitution. A review of online boards and committees show correspondence, including federal grants, clearly demonstrating he town’s intention to preserve Moxley Memorial playground as open recreational space — that is until the architectural firm the Town hired made the ill-advised proposal. (That designation connects it to town intention to preserve as open space.)

There has been no consideration of the People and their families who rely on the Moxley field for recreation. It is the most used field. Hundreds of players will be displaced. As a lifelong resident and nearly three decades as a town councilor at large, I know firsthand there is no other available playing field in all of Watertown.

In addition to the above, the PFC Richard Stephen Moxley field is 500 ft. from two liquor stores — on the Westminster side, and on the other side of the field another liquor store in same proximity.

I have included an illustration of the proposed high school footprint in the neighborhood, we well as the diagram the architects created depicting children walking past one liquor store to go to the site of the proposed temporary high school.

MGL outlines the legal framework establishing selling and serving alcohol being licensed under the rules and regulations of c138 12 & 15 — not within 500 ft. of a school as mentioned. This is not a petition for a liquor license. It is the decision to site a high school next to two liquor stores.

I represent thirty-two cities and towns in Massachusetts in my Governor’s Council district. I have seen many schools built in twenty-one years. Not one school has ever been built in proximity to a liquor store. I believe that due diligence requires the City known as the Town of Watertown officials to solicit community feedback about siting a high school so close to an existing liquor store.

Parents and members of the community must be included in the deliberative process

This decision should not be the sole responsibility of the volunteer members of the Watertown School Building committee acting on behalf of the parents. There is too much at stake and at risk to not have a more inclusive process for the community. The building Committee and town of Watertown must continue their due diligence — look at all the options of available classrooms in the Hosmer, Cunniff, St Jude’s and Phillips school with other available sites to be revisited and to investigate the many Catholic schools that are closing.

Town officials need to meet with business leaders to ask for suggestions on the possibility of purposing vacant building (with less impact on resources and environment) — determine if there are privately owned parcels of land that may be available.

There is no need to spend $24 million-plus the additional costs — including Electricity, heating, water, plumbing, ventilation, air conditioning, wiring etc. — and to pave over a much loved and much used field for this proposal.

Consider the situation that will be imposed on this small area

Presently Middle School teachers drive in from Main Street and park along Westminster Avenue along with buses. The high school teachers will drive their individual 119 cars-entering from Main Street to drive onto Westminster Avenue to the parking lot on the former playing field.

This temporary high school with its parking lot in this small area will be adjacent to a gymnasium, Middle School, Tot lot with all its play equipment, basketball court and tennis court.

This little area does not have a neighborhood school like the Cunniff, Hosmer and Lowell.

The Middle school is a Junior high School whose students include every 6-7-8 grade student throughout Watertown. Now they will add 9-10-11-12 high school grade students. Small Linden Street adjacent to the Middle School is closed 7-4 pm.

Middle School Parents are gridlocked when dropping off their children. They are prohibited to exit Westminster Avenue to Main Street. There will be approximately 1,270 middle school and high school students coming into this area.

In addition to the hundreds of Middle School students dropped off, it is estimated additionally there will be up to 500 twice a day drop-offs of high school students from parents coming from Main Street to Westminster Avenue, along with buses.

As a former elected Watertown Councilor at large, I served nearly three decades. I worked to protect the interests of children, adults and the best for the community — including lobbying for the rehab and irrigation system at the Moxley Memorial playground — protecting the little green space left.

I proudly attended the dedication of the PFC Richard Stephen Moxley Memorial playground in honor of our own fallen hero who gave his life in Vietnam. Richie played on this playground.

I believe we share the same goals. We want the same children who will attend the new high school to also have a healthier future that includes access to open space and all its benefits.

The fact is that much of the open space land in Watertown is privately held with limited access to the public. Taking this resource is a community-wide issue that impacts each and every Watertown resident.

This is an identifiable community need.

Due to these reasons, the City known as the Town of Watertown should explore other options for development of the high school. The people of Watertown deserve more. I look forward to your written response.

Sincerely,
Marilyn M. Petitto Devaney

24 thoughts on “LETTER: Reconsider Using Moxley Field as the Site for the Temporary High School

  1. As a former Westminster Ave. from the 50s I agree that Moxley should not be uprooted . Save this area as is.

  2. The argument of the high school being near a liquor store is disingenuous. The middle school is already there. High school kids aren’t old enough to drink either. What do you think is going to happen? They’re suddenly going to become alcoholics overnight?

  3. As a current resident of Lexington Street, I regard this park and open space as vital to the area’s livability index. Being blind-sided by this surprising mandate underscores a general sense that this was cooked up without due process because the determination can’t stand the light of comparative analysis.

  4. Given no green space could be used(ie no parks which is great), Phillips is way to small a space(not safe for Seniors/Students/Fire Dept) and right next to major construction zone, St Judes I believe was too small a footprint and further complicates going to/from, what new ideas that can be done asap do you all have? What is the timeline to get a new location for a temporary HS in order to be in line with MSBA and construction schedule?

  5. My understanding from listening to the meetings is that Moxley does not come under Article 97 which specifically relates to parks. Moxley is a playground, so does not come under that rule.

    Also, no where in this letter is there suggestion of where else they are supposed to host a temporary high school. The reason mentioned by the Superintendent that space in the Middle School could be shared for the temporary high school cannot be met by any other location that was already checked.

    And lastly, this is temporary – this is not a permanent solution. Clearly people can go to other parts (and in fact, they still have access to the field and tennis courses, so it’s not like all of the green space will be done while this projection happens) while this is in place, especially as the town has already planned to re-do the after the construction is finished.

    Yes, it is named after a home town vet. So is Victory field, which people are more than happy to have turn into a construction zone instead. It’s not a sacrilege to repurpose the playground for a period of time. The longer this kind of argument goes on, the harder it will be to get on the state’s approval for funding.

    • On subject of whether Article 97 applies to Moxley, the only opinion on this that matters was made by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. The Court ruled that Sullivan Park, which had been used by the public for over 60 years as a recreation open space, could not be used by the city of Westfield to build an elementary school building site.

      In Smith v. Westfield, the Court ruled that Sullivan Memorial Park in Westfield was subject to Article 97 protection.

      That decision impacts any city or town in Massachusetts planning to repurpose park and recreation space. This means that Moxley, which has been used by the public for many years as an open space and recreation area, is protected under Article 97. You can look on the online Watertown Town Assessor Database and on the Watertown Zoning Map, and see that Moxley ( and every other park in Watertown) is zoned as “OSC” Open Space/ Conservancy. The Town of Watertown has historically included Moxley in the Watertown open space plan. In words and actions, Watertown has consistently included Moxley as protected open space, as are all the parks being pushed forth as possible school sites.

      Watertown owns many parking lots, how about the town consider using a parking lot to house the temporary high school -some place that has already been paved over – rather than paving over a needed recreation area.

        • It is urgent that Watertown elected officials understand the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) has held that the Prior Public Use Doctrine which operates to prevent public lands acquired for a particular use from being diverted to another inconsistent public use without explicit legislative authorization, applues to Moxley Field.

          Watertown government officials along with members of the Moxley family TWICE dedicated Moxley Park/Field/Playground-once in 1970 and again in 1990.

          These action(s) by Watertown government officials “clearly and convincingly intended to permanently dedicate (Moxley) as parkland.”.

          This means Article 97 protection extends to parkland “dedicated by municipalities as public parks that, under the prior public use doctrine, cannot be sold or devoted to another public use without plain and explicit legislative authority.”

          Moxley Field has been included in Watertown planning ducuments, open space plans, and no doubt federal and state funds were used to maintain Moxley Field.

          It us time for elected Watertown officials to work for a new plan that does not include taking any current park or recreation.

          Continuing with current proposal to house temporary high school on Moxley Field will only serve to delay the building project and lead to legal jeopardy to the town.

  6. The proposals put forth in this excellent letter regarding the “temporary” high school should be addressed by those who are making the final decision on this project. While it may be a “temporary” high school, it will be a “permanent” change to what is now one of the few remaining open spaces in this town. One need only look at what Moxley Field will become if this is implemented to see that it is not a good choice in any way.

  7. It’s temporary. It’s time for the community to pull together and make a difference for the children. We are fortunate to have a state of the art high school in the near future. As a community, we should be grateful and do whatever possible to make it happen. The arguments I am reading against using Moxley do not illustrate an inconvenience for our children. Instead, they illustrate an inconvenience for the adults of Watertown. What a sad perspective.

  8. It is advisable to look at the comparison of locations which was listed in the Tab. Moxley Field seems best but there are alternatives to consider.

  9. “Agree to disagree” on whole host of discussion points on Moxley proposal, especially the comments about PFC Moxley Field/Victory Field. I love Watertown because diversity of opinion is respected. There are many asking why Moxley is not protected as green open recreational space when there are so few public recreations spaces for families in Watertown.

    For people who are concerned about losing use of Moxley’s green open recreational space, here is the URL address to access website to sign petition.

    https://sign.moveon.org/petitions/save-moxley-park

  10. What’s a rambling letter of nonsense. Have you ever seen anyone use “I” so much? You would think the writer has accomplished so much and all good decisions this community made were hers.
    Like usual the author offers no solutions just blaming others. Wish she showed up at a meeting about the new high school instead of this weak attempt to derail our children getting a new high school.
    How about a solution for once instead of blaming others and the typical fear mongering?
    Also, sounds like a little of NIMBY too.

  11. dude. tbis guy…. is clearly smart and loves watertown….. but otherwise we are jumping the sharks together. loooook out!

  12. Why can’t the temporary high school be built on the area of Mount Auburn St. at the Hosmer School and The Assisted Living building. The Assisted Living building was originally the Watertown High School building in the early 1900’s?

    • That field next to Hosmer, O’Connell Field, is one of the areas being explored by the School Building Committee. It is also named for a veteran, Capt. Richard O’Connell, who was killed in the Korean War.

    • Why would one field be better than another? One neighborhood(which has seen it’s days of Construction at Hosmer) affected more than another? Would we want HS students and Elementary students next to each other vs Middle School/HS? Her letter states that she wants no open green space to be used for HS, so Hosmer field should be off the list too?(by her own arguement which I do understand). The space will be soon Natural green space for the kiddos to play on(otherwise they would have only a small sliver of green on the side of the old building). Phillips I believe was not big enough nor was St Judes from the meetings I attended. I would like to hear of some new solutions(well from the writer) that fit into the letter writers criteria(no parks/natural green space, not near liquor stores..though I find this is N/A given the age of HS students and the size of our Town, parking for all the folks not on )side streets…) ?? Very difficult well impossible really in our very densely populated town.

  13. Maybe using more than one site is an option?
    Break it up into first 2 years and last 2 years?
    Not the best choice perhaps but there doesn’t seem like there is a clear best choice.

    • School officials did talk about splitting up the high school into 2 sites. They said it is difficult to just split it by grades because teachers do not just teach particular grades.

  14. Reply to Wat Rat
    I am disappointed that you are making fun of me -not being civil – and that you would not put your name.
    You demeaned me for not caring to attend the zoom high school meetings. It is personal and didn’t answer Mr sideris when faulted not into his zoom meetings.
    I had 2 sisters living . One in a nursing home stricken with coronavirus- couldn’t see her – she died alone! No wake -no church service-few family members at cemetery- my other sister in assisted living was stricken with the virus-nearly died-thank God -she is coming back slowly .

    I have advocated for a new high school for decades—nearly 100 years old with asbestos and more.
    First of all TEMPORARY may be 5 to 8 years that PFC Moxley memorial playing field will be destroyed

    Watertown will have a legacy to be the first ANYWHERE to desecrate a dedicated Memorial playing field for a fallen hero .

    The plan is to bulldoze and replace with cement – build a parking lot for 119 cars with 33 two story structures .

    This is the PFC Richard Stephen Moxley playground. Richie gave his life in Vietnam .

    I remember when it was dedicated I told Mr. and Mrs. Moxley that this playing field would always be a reminder to people of Richie’s sacrifice – and to know Richie played ball on this field .

    No Wat Rat -this is “ not in my backyard “ as you so wrongly accused me.

    I believe the Moxley family would be heartsick to know this playing field will be destroyed – With the knowledge that -there is not another available playing field in Watertown .
    There has been no mention by the Building Committee on the hundreds of users of this field being displaced with no where to go .

    When I spoke to the school superintendent this week – she advised me that she’s been looking in NEWTON and that there are available fields there.
    Perhaps if we residents were given notice before the decision – we could contribute with a better choice .
    I still hold hope we can find another site .

    Talking to people since I wrote my
    letter recently printed here I hold hope .
    We have Gold Star Mothers who have signed our petition in opposition to this site being chosen .
    In my previous letter I pointed out among other things- the 500 twice a day drop off of parents of. their high school students plus the Middle school drop offs in addition to buses. It is the most destructive for all and the worst choice. I’m not getting into Article 97 here. Caring people -please join us in opposition -sign our petition .
    Thank you so much
    Marilyn

  15. Watertown needs to look at neighboring places for options. We are out of space and have sold off too many town-owned properties and we’re already too short on open space and recreation options. A new high school is very long overdue. Sad. Waltham has been buying up lots of parcels, or what about Newton or call the Catholics or… It is going to take many years to build a new WHS. The building committee is going to need to get creative, including whether to provide transit or other parking options. Watertown is going to have to spend some money if we really care about quality education and quality of life.

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