October 7, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
The first public presentation of the 2020 Comprehensive Hingham Athletic Fields and Outdoor Court study -- now is in its final stages following a number of working group meetings and opportunities for public input, with more to come -- attracted a large "crowd" at last night's remote Selectmen's meeting.
"This robust report is a road map for the town to guide its decision-making," Weston & Sampson Consultant Cass Chroust said. "It's not written in stone -- it's a living, breathing document."
Highlights of the study and some of the recommendations and proposals outlined in the report include a proposal for one or two new lighted synthetic turf fields to reduce stress on the town's natural grass fields -- one at Carlson Field and a second one at Hingham High School; improved lighting at Lynch Field that Chroust said would also lessen negative impacts of the current lighting for residents of the adjacent housing development; and possibly a pickleball court or two.
Selectman William Ramsey said the need for an additional turf field is "significant," noting how "absolutely wonderful" it is to see how much the one at HHS is used and how unfortunate are the delays in holding sports events on natural grass fields during the normally rainy Spring season. "Multiple different sports can be played in one day on the turf field," he said.
Posted on town website
The 23-page study summary will be posted on the town website this week, and the final 100-page comprehensive report will be posted at a later date.
Members of the field study working group who collaborated with Weston & Sampson on the report include Recreation Commission, School Department, Selectmen, DPW, South Shore Country Club, and Hingham Sports Partnership representatives. Last night's session was joint with the School Committee, Rec Commission, and Advisory Committee.
While the study -- funded by $60,000 in Community Preservation Act funding -- is reaching its final stage, there's still time to consider recommended changes from members of the community after last night's meeting. That said, no decisions have been made and there will be more chances for public input at upcoming meetings.
Funding any such proposals is a big consideration in light of the many other capital projects that are also on the town's radar screen. Potential sources include additional CPA funds, Town Meeting allocations, private donations, public-private partnerships, and possible grants.
Town Meeting 2019 supported the fields study warrant article after numerous complaints about the town's fields. The goal was to evaluate the town's ability to meet the current and future needs of the community as the demand for fields continues to grow.
Different entities own fields
The town's 37 natural grass fields and the one synthetic turf field at the high school are under the control of different town entities -- Recreation Commission, the School Department, and the Selectmen. One of the study's recommendations is to centralize permitting, scheduling, and maintenance for all of the fields.
"The key piece is centralized permitting," Rec Commission Chair Vicki Donlan said, further noting, "We have wonderful fields, but it's not about how many we have but how they are maintained -- it's so weather-related. Having another turf field would change the dynamics, giving us the ability to 'rest' our natural grass fields."
The fields are currently in use for a total of about 14,600 hours annually, which Chroust said exceeds the maximum recommended hours, since some of the fields are over-used and others under-used.
Proposals for the town's 31 tennis, 1 hockey, and 11 basketball courts are included in the study, along with recommendations for each of the fields. (See the report for more details.)
These include walking paths at the Cronin Field complex and lighting (with a recessed effect to minimize effects on abutters) for the tennis courts at that location; improvements to the Haley Field parking lot; Kress Field parking lot and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-related work; drainage improvements to Margetts Field off Ward Street; among others.
Chroust noted that significant technological advances have been made to lessen impacts of what he called "sports lighting" on the surrounding areas.
Smaller recommended capital projects priorities range from a ballpark figure of $35,000 for work at Powers Field in Hingham Centre to an estimated $920,000 (could be lower or higher) for Margetts Field improvements.
Larger capital projects priorities include, plus or minus, $4.26 million for the Carlson Complex; $4.24 million for Hingham High School; $2.2 million for Lynch Field; and $2.13 million for Cronin Complex.
Working group member Ray Estes emphasized that these figures are not final and are only "ballpark" estimates. "They are not based on any specific design," he said.
The working group plans another public meeting soon, which Estes said would be "a great opportunity to engage the public on a larger scale, like we did [at another meeting] in December."
Estes also credited former Selectman Karen Johnson as being the driving force behind this study.
Hingham Sports Partnership Member Bill Crean said he hopes town officials will set "an aggressive goal to get it [referring to study recommendations] done," while at the same time acknowledging that funding will be an issue. Nevertheless, Crean recalled, "The Hingham community stepped up with the new HHS fields facility with [a large portion coming from] private funding. It's not easy."
Crean also noted that "Parents are paying taxes and a lot of youth and high school sports fees to use these fields. I think we can value-engineer this plan."
Another resident involved with Hingham Little League said there aren't enough baseball fields to accommodate the 800 kids who have signed up for the sport.
Selectman Chair said this was the first of multiple conversations about the study. "This is a significant body of work and a lot to take in. We wanted to give the Weston & Sampson team a chance to hear from sports leaders and others before the report is finalized to hear their perspective," she said. "This data will inform important decisions and is what we were looking for."