Published in the April 12, 2017 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — Fields Committee Chairman Arthur Bourque had a solemn message to deliver to the selectmen last week during a special meeting called by the board to discuss the three warrant articles related to the ongoing upgrades at the town’s school playgrounds and parks.
The result of the engineering review of these town facilities has just been returned and reveal the problems are far greater than anyone anticipated. “I was pretty staggered by the amount of money that is involved here. I don’t think anyone involved in this project expected it to be where it is,” Bourque said, adding, “There are a lot of decisions that need to made over the next two weeks on how we want to proceed at Town Meeting.”
In total, Bourque said the “order of magnitude” gross engineered estimate to repair all of these facilities was quoted at $4.6 million. If Jordan Park is excluded from this estimate, this total drops to $3.1 million. Jordan Park alone is estimated to cost $1.5 million, but because the fields there are currently playable, it would be the easiest facility to put on hold, he said.
Jordan Park would also be the most likely candidate for privately raised funds to pay for those upgrades, such as expanding the parking lot and size of the field, and adding a small children’s playground, as opposed to the LMS track and field project, as was originally believed could be accomplished. The ability of volunteers to raise the sums needed to replace the track has proven to be too difficult, Bourque said.
Most people do not realize that Jordan Park was named after a native son, Alan Jordan, the town’s only casualty during the Vietnam War, Bourque said, and any park upgrades would include an appropriate memorial to honor his ultimate sacrifice.
Bourque stressed that these are cost estimates only and a detailed cost estimate had not been performed. The facility improvements under the $3.1 million estimate, all of which include a 15 percent contingency rather than the typical 10 percent contingency, due to the many variables at each site, would include: Summer Street School ($464,379); Huckleberry Hill School ($560,829); Newhall Park ($1.1M); Middle School fields – not including track- ($493,540); High School – which includes five new tennis courts – $429,024) and Glen Meadow Park ($58,063).
Bourque apologized for bringing these numbers forward at this late date. The funds to pay for these field evaluations by an engineering firm were approved at October Town Meeting and the bid was awarded in January to Gale Associates. The task proved far more involved than anticipated once the evaluation got underway, he said.
After listening to the previous hearing on the withdrawal of the cinema proposal until at least October, Bourque told the board that he, too, wished it would be possible to hold off on this discussion, in part because if the cinema proposal goes forward, the additional tax revenue could potentially be earmarked for projects such as these field and park improvements.
Although Bourque is the one sounding the alarm on the needs at these town-owned facilities, he noted that he is merely bringing it to the attention of the community that years of neglect and an inability to fund necessary repairs as needed has led to this situation, which is actually a dire one because it involves the safety of children and townspeople.
Repairing crumbling hardscape at the town’s two elementary schools, which both the former and current DPW directors have told Bourque are beyond repair, is a matter of safety, Bourque said, adding it is amazing a child has not suffered a compound fracture at these playgrounds during recess or physical education classes. The same is true for what currently passes as playing fields at the schools, which are full of holes that could twist ankles and remain dust bowls that grow only crab grass and become pits of mud when it rains. The facilities need wells in order to maintain the fields once they are repaired.
Superintendent Jane Tremblay concurred. She said it would be impossible to choose to repair one school’s facilities over another – do you fix the elementary school fields so the kids can play at recess and gym, but leave the tennis courts unfixed and filled with frost heaves and cracks in which players can twist an ankle?
Selectman Chris Barrett noted that he was dismayed to read in the sports schedule printed in a recent Villager that there would be “no home meets” held at the middle school for the Pioneers varsity track and field team. He asked how long it had been since a meet had been able to be held at the school.
Tremblay said it had been four years since the Pioneers had been able to host a track and field meet because the track surface is not safe. This means the town’s current senior class has never been able to host a home track meet throughout their careers. Bourque said the condition the track is “far worse than we thought.”
Barrett said, “We pride ourselves on saying Lynnfield schools are the best and I think if you look at the fields, especially Huckleberry and Summer Street, they are anything but the best. I think we need to focus on those two schools right away.”
On the positive side, Bourque said there is a “new sheriff” in the DPW with the hiring of John Tomasz and he feels “more comfortable than I have felt in my entire life in Lynnfield,” which includes 12 years as a selectman and five years heading the fields committee, that once these facilities are repaired and replaced they will be maintained.
The town also has a limited window to repair the school fields during the summer months between June 23 and Aug. 28. Contractors went on a walk-through with the Bourque last Thursday and the actual bids are due a week before Town Meeting, he said.
The selectmen held a second meeting on April 11, after press time, to comb through each estimate received to see what can be eliminated in order to make the cost more amenable to potential Town Meeting approval.