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Hingham Town Meeting to vote on spending public money for fields, private money for lights

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 13, 2013 04:01 PM

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Hingham School officials will ask the town to fund synthetic turf for a proposed multi-purpose field, while the lights will be privately funded, though residents will have to approve the installation of both.

According to school officials, the idea was to make the $4.5 million undertaking a private/public project, one that would dramatically improve the athletic facilities next to Hingham High.

Though the lights and other amenities would be funded by private donations, school officials say they are looking to the town for the majority of the budget.

“We believe the town has a responsibility to fund a certain level of the project,” said Ray Estes, a School Committee member and chair of the School Building Committee. “Things beyond that we certainly sought and will continue to seek private funding for. But just because we have private funding, [doesn’t] mean that should defray the cost of part of the base project the town should be paying for.”

The base project includes construction a multi-purpose field with bleachers, a varsity baseball field, a softball field, renovation of the existing parking lot, a concessions building with bathrooms and storage space, and a pedestrian walkway between the south parking lot and the field.

Fencing, grass, bushes, and a sound-reducing buffer for neighbors has also been included in the base project.

All that will be voted on in the first of three articles to be presented to the town at Town Meeting on April 22. Town Meeting will be asked to provide $3.7 million for the project.

The lights and artificial turf will be separate articles. Though the town has secured private funding for the lights, their installation is contingent on Town Meeting approval.

Technically, that approval is not required for something that will be privately funded, but School Committee members have said they felt it was important to give Town Meeting the choice.

As for the turf, Town Meeting will also be given the option to vote for that additional feature, though the money would come from the town’s pocket.

“We came to realize that not only would a grass field not serve our purposes with respect to [being] able to play two [same-season] sports concurrently, but that also the drainage system for a grass field would as good in solving the significant drainage concerns at that property,” Estes said

The enhanced drainage would also reduce water runoff into neighboring properties, a factor that turned an artificial turf field from an “amenity” to a necessity.

While the high cost of the project and the controversial nature of adding both synthetic turf and lights may prove contentious at Town Meeting, the debate won’t come as a surprise.

Even the approval process has been a bumpy road up to this point, with few town boards coming to a consensus over whether the project should move forward.

Advisory votes were in favor of all three articles, though none was unanimous. Similarly, though they have not taken a formal vote, selectmen are so far split 2 to 1 over the project.

“[There are] a whole bunch of issues,” said Selectman Bruce Rabuffo, who was not in favor of the project. “[Spending] $4.5 million on a project that last year would be $2.7 million. The usage policy to have lights on over 190 nights a year - that’s disruptive to the neighborhood; the neighborhood has approached me and asked to support them.

"Plus drainage and other points that haven’t been cleared up - it’s a wetlands. More importantly, I think historically, Hingham has turned down lights … There’s a number of reasons.”

The project did receive unanimous support from the Conservation Commission, and the Planning Board issued an approval with conditions for the project after meeting five times for lengthy meetings.

Their conditions of operation specify when lights and sound could be used on the fields and how parking would be managed.

Though the mixed voted from town boards may encourage debate on Town Meeting floor, Estes said this was never going to be a one-sided vote.

“It’s a big project for the town, not unlike the middle school, and with the school the votes weren’t unanimous either…There are some people who just believe this isn’t the right thing to do, whether it's turf, lights or the money. They are certainly entitled to that view and I expect there might be others at Town Meeting with a similar view,” Estes said.

“Our hope is the time we put in and study that’s gone on, we will be in a position to educate folks…to convince them that this is the right thing to do for the town, and the town can afford it.”

Funding for this project will be a key point, Estes said. Though the town intends to borrow the money for the project, the debt can be paid from the existing budget. In other words, no override would be needed.

“A lot of folks concerned about the money perhaps may not be aware that the town’s finances are really quite good and the prospect in the next several years is better than we could have hoped for,” Estes said. “If people learn those facts in context with one another, there may be less of an inclination not to support.”

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