Clarification regarding my opposition
Thank you for your story in the March 28th edition of The Reminder
that reported on the Select Board's decision to remove a proposed $96,752 spending article from the Longmeadow Town Meeting warrant. I believe that additional clarification to my opposition to that proposal would round out that article by providing insight into my reason for my vote to remove that article from the warrant.
As background, one should note that the article proposed to modify the Wolf Swamp Road fields to remove two softball fields and infill them with grass so that additional soccer/lacrosse fields can be placed in this area. However, the cost breakdown of the project shows $20,000 as the cost of that field conversion, the balance of the project funding being designated to: replace the fencing between the fields and the road ($27,186), install 15 foot high netting on top of that fencing ($21,883), installing a guardrail along Wolf Swamp Road ($15,053) and project contingency ($12,620). To be clear, that's 21 percent of the project cost to convert the fields. The need for new fencing and netting was because the proposal also called for the fields to be reoriented to a North-South alignment (perpendicular to Wolf Swamp Road) rather than the current East-West (parallel to Wolf Swamp Road) orientation of the playing fields.
I opposed taking this proposal for funds to Town Meeting for the following reasons:
First, as reported in your article, Mr. Goodhines, the Parks and Recreation Committee liaison to the Community Preservation Committee, indicated that the highest priority of the Parks and Recreation committee is to maximize the number of playing fields within Longmeadow. Based on the diagrams submitted with the project proposal, this goal of maximizing fields is achieved simply by infilling the softball fields at the Wolf Swamp Road fields – and no additional playing fields are gained by changing the orientation of the fields by 90 degrees. With the fields remaining in their current East-West orientation the need for the fencing and netting is eliminated. If the primary goal of the project can be achieved for 21 percent of the cost, it is our fiduciary responsibility to save those funds. Just because the funds exist in the Community Preservation Committee's account is no reason to spend them.
Second, the inclusion of 15 foot high netting on top of a five foot high chain link fence would inextricably alter the appearance of the fields. This proposed change conjured up memories of the changes made to Turner Fields less than ten years earlier. In an eerily similar situation, the Parks and Recreation commissions (they were elected commissioners at that time) unilaterally chose to alter Turner Field by cutting down trees, installing a road-front barrier of hemlock, and revising the traffic pattern – much to the dismay of town residents and neighbors who were impacted by a change in everything from visual appearance of the neighborhood to a changed water table that created localized flooding. My opposition was also based on the fact that this Wolf Swamp Road field project would implement a significant change in appearance of the fields without proper consideration by the Planning Board. Imagine what would happen if Bay Path College or St. Mary's school erected a 20 foot high fence and netting along a town street without review by proper town authorities.
Third; the inclusion of a barrier along Wolf Swamp Road to isolate the parking lot was proposed without review by the Town Safety committee. Although it may appear that the installation of a barrier between the parking lot and the road would be beneficial, a safety review by individuals trained in such issues might determine that the current situation is safer where cars parked facing the road can pull out directly into the road, thereby not backing up into a narrow parking lot filled with children. Such a decision should be made by the town safety team, a group composed of police, DPW, and the Town Manager.
Finally, there's the issue of jurisdiction. Although least important of the reasons, it must be noted that the Wolf Swamp Road fields are not a park, under the jurisdiction of the Parks and Recreation Department, but are open space, under the jurisdiction of the Select Board. When the Parks and Recreation Commissioners altered Turner field years ago, they did so outside of their jurisdiction. Even with a review by the Community Preservation Committee, this was clearly a project request beyond the jurisdiction of the submitting party. Although the Parks and Recreation committee is advisory to the Parks and Recreation department, the responsibility for proposing changes to Open Space is with the Select Board, and although the Parks and Recreation committee members can and should pursue additional playing fields, that goal should not include permanent changes to the fencing and roadside appearance.
In summary, my decision to oppose the Town Meeting warrant article that proposed to spend $96,752 to modify the Wolf Swamp Road fields was based on the knowledge that the goal of additional playing fields could be achieved at lower cost (without including changes to the fencing appearance), and my belief that it is the responsibility of the Select Board to make sure that proposals are fully vetted by appropriate groups (Planning Commission, safety committee) before they are brought before Town Meeting for a capital appropriation request.
Mark P. Gold