Published in the June 8, 2017 edition


NORTH READING – The longstanding question over building restrooms at Arthur Kenney Field may have finally been resolved at Monday night’s Town Meeting.

For months, town officials have debated the eventual cost of the restrooms, which were mandated under state guidelines because the field is more than 300 feet from the nearest existing facilities.

A previous vote to approve the town’s capital budget provided $200,000 in funding for the restroom project. The rest was expected to come from the town’s free cash fund ($430,000) as well as $50,000 from its overlay surplus fund.

Speaking as a voter, Finance Committee member Donald Kelliher said a snack shack would be “a nice amenity,” but said he would be comfortable with just the $508,000 cost of building the restrooms. Former Selectman Jeffrey Yull also spoke against the proposal, suggesting the School Committee should have accepted a proposal to add the restroom space to the existing locker room building – an idea opposed by the School Committee because that building is only two years old.

In the weeks leading up to Town Meeting, officials had initially expected a warrant article seeking money to fund additional design work on the restrooms. Much of the debate over cost focused on whether a snack shack should be included with the project. Supporters had cited the fundraising value of a snack shack for many of the town’s teams and community organizations, while opponents had maintained it was an unnecessary use of town funds.

In a presentation before the town meeting vote, Athletic Facilities Committee Chairman Mel Webster noted that the cost of the project had come down considerably since the state’s initial requirement of 26 combined stalls for the men’s and women’s rooms. Now, the project will result in five stalls in the women’s room and a men’s room with three stalls and two urinals.

Earlier this spring, the town put the restroom project out to bid and came up with just a single bid that came in above $900,000 – well over what was considered an acceptable price. Revising the RFP to allow companies a longer work window, Webster reported that three bids were received on June 1. “We ended up with one bid where we were shocked at the price,” said Webster, explaining that that bid had provided a much greater incentive to take care of the snack shack now. The bid reportedly came in lower than the other companies were asking just to build the bathroom component.

A past proposal for the restrooms had envisioned laying a concrete slab for a snack shack to be constructed later, possibly with private fundraising. When the subject of private fundraising for the snack shack came up on Monday night, Webster cited a level of donor fatigue that may exist among residents at this point following the successful school fields fundraising drive. Several residents also spoke in favor of the snack shack, pointing out that the fundraising opportunities it presents allows organizations to avoid coming to the town to seek money.

Looking ahead, site work for the project is expected to be complete by December 1, with an eye on having construction done by next March 15. A construction schedule remains to be announced.