The athletic fields at O’Connell Field will likely be getting some upgrades as part of the construction of the new Hosmer Elementary School, but some neighbors are concerned about the loss of green space and other issues.
At Wednesday night’s School Building Committee meeting, designers presented a preliminary design for upgrades to O’Connell Field, which runs along Mt. Auburn Street in front of the Brigham House and sits next to Hosmer’s playground. The field is home to the Watertown High School softball teams, and school officials said they want to provide facilities that are in-line with those for the boys on the WHS baseball team.
The estimated cost of the project is $1.7 million, said designer Julie Rahilly from Ai3, but a final estimate could be calculated when more detailed designs are completed. The School Building Committee voted unanimously to have Ai3 proceed with more designs, which would take into account comments from Wednesday’s meeting.
Additions include a new backstop, enclosed dugouts, bleachers and fences would be installed on two parts of the field, one for the varsity team and the other for the junior varsity. The plan also calls for a batting cage in the corner of the field near the school. The fields will be equipped so that Watertown Cable Television can broadcast games.
A restroom facility with two large individual restrooms is planned near the corner of Mt. Auburn and Boylston streets. The restrooms could also be used as a dressing room for softball teams. The building would also have a water fountain on the outside and house the water mechanical systems for the field, Rahilly said.
A pathway would be installed around most of the field to allow access for those with disabilities. A score board and a flag pole would also be installed near the fence on Mt. Auburn Street.
The field will not have lights, and City Council President Mark Sideris said there was a commitment made to the neighborhood that lights would not be installed.
School Committee member Lindsay Mosca said she likes new additions to the field.
“I really appreciate the design,” Mosca said. “It is so nice to see these kinds of amenities for girls’ and women’s sports in town that they don’t currently have.”
A sophomore at the high school named Eva said the additions would improve the facilities available to the WHS softball teams.
“Thank you so much for putting in the effort for the softball team because I typically played on really rough fields and conditions,” Eva said. “I really appreciate you guys putting in so much thought for the softball team because we really want to work on building the program with new coaches and players, so thank you so much.”
Resident Ann Marie Cloonan, who lives near the field, said she supports providing quality facilities for girls and the softball program, but added that the field is not just used by the team. She worried about green space being eaten away.
“There are structures all the way around (the field), including the path. It was all green. I see so much of it taken away here,” Cloonan said. “And this is a public field, this isn’t a school field. Families are out there all summer long.”
Resident Elodia Thomas agreed, and said that the number of students in the Watertown Public Schools make up about 7 percent of the City’s population. She encouraged the committee to think about it from the perspective of the neighborhood and the whole community.
“All of this comes on the backs of the taxpayers, it does not come out of the school budget,” Thomas said. “You need to be more cognizant of the neighborhood.”
Another neighbor, Maureen Foley, said she worries that some of the new facilities will interfere with the view of the field and the buildings.
“I am not thrilled about where the flagpole is because I think it obstructs some vision from Mt. Auburn. It is a beautiful asset, driving up Mt. Auburn and seeing a beautiful field,” Foley said. “And, who is going to maintain that bathroom. I hope it will be more camouflaged. It sticks out like a sore thumb.”
Jim Kane, the Director of Public Facilities, said that he will work with the Department of Public Works to figure out who will maintain the restrooms and when.
“There may be a need to get in there more frequently, depending on the days and the usage and the events,” Kane said. “I am not sure of the schedule, but we will look at that space and make sure it is well maintained.”
Rahilly said that the scoreboard and flag may not be as prominent as it appears on the overhead view because there is a slope from the fence down to the field, and they will be behind a group of trees on Mt. Auburn Street.
Some School Building Committee members wondered why the bleachers were angled, and preferred them to be parallel to the baselines. That would also put them along the side of a soccer field, which would run the length of the field and would include the clay infields of the softball diamonds. Rahilly said the bleachers were angled so they face home plate.
After the vote to move ahead with further designs, Sideris said that the proposed additions to O’Connell Field would come back to the School Building Committee, and the public will have a chance to weigh in at those meetings.