Mashpee Middle/High School

The Mashpee Community Preservation Committee voted 8-1 during its meeting last Thursday, January 6, to recommend moving forward on the Mashpee Department of Public Works proposed multipurpose track-and-field stadium renovation at Mashpee Middle-High School.

The discussion focused on funding sources, construction materials and school and community use.

“I think that moving this forward creates a signal that it’s at least being taken seriously, and it’s worth people’s time and effort to invest in refining it, and developing it in a way that’s the best value for the community. So I would encourage us to start the ball rolling,” Mashpee Select Board representative and park commissioner Andrew R. Gottlieb said.

Mashpee Planning Board representative Mary E. Waygan said the planning board members are all in support of the project. Concerned about the presence of PFAS in the products used to construct turf fields, Ms. Waygan asked for more information from Mashpee Director of Public Works Catherine E. Laurent, despite the CPC vote not including the turf field.

PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals” because they never fully degrade, are a class of manmade chemicals that have been linked to low infant birth weights, suppression of the immune system and cancer.

“We have spoken with our consultant, who has dealt with this issue at other school districts,” Ms. Laurent said. “After contacting manufacturers, testing was completed and there are PFAS-free products available. This would be a stipulation of any bid that was released for the project.”

In a follow-up question, Ms. Waygan asked if the same information applied to the synthetic layering underneath the turf. In response, Ms. Laurent said there is a single layer of synthetic padding under the turf, and the rest is made of natural materials.

“I have not checked with Gale Associates on the pad, but I will, and we would be happy to make that commitment,” Ms. Laurent said.

Not everyone is in favor of a turf field, however.

Last week, the Massachusetts Sierra Club sent a letter to the community preservation committee and the Mashpee School Committee to oppose the construction of the turf field, due to the synthetic materials used.

“The Sierra Club was founded on promoting outdoor activities in nature. However, we do not support the growing trend to install artificial turf athletic fields and related synthetic surfaces. We recognize the challenges of maintaining natural grass fields, but they are the only sustainable option,” Massachusetts Sierra Club chapter director Deb Pasternak wrote.

Points raised in the letter touched on the heat generated from the plastic surface, the removal of more than three acres of ecosystem, the resulting loss of habitat for native animal species, chemical leachate and sanitation.

“Mashpee has been a leader in reducing unnecessary plastics with its bag and bottle bylaws and now needs to consider the significant negative environmental and health impacts of plastic athletic fields. The Sierra Club urges you to vote against these plastic and impermeable hardscape structures and preserve green space,” Ms. Pasternak wrote.

Letters in favor of the project were submitted to the CPC for consideration from the school committee, the school district’s leadership team, the Mashpee Booster Club and the Southport Falcons. A student petition in favor of the turf field was also submitted, Superintendent of Schools Patricia M. DeBoer said during last Wednesday’s school committee meeting.

During last Thursday’s CPC meeting, Mr. Gottlieb said he wanted to remind the committee that the project consists of two elements and that the committee is being asked to pay for everything around the field and not the field itself.

Committee member-at-large Arden Russell Cadrin, who voted against recommending the track-and-field project, said the Massachusetts Department of Revenue’s position on the use of Community Preservation Act funds for recreation projects is intended to promote outdoor recreation pursuits that take place on open land in a relatively natural state.

She said she did not think CPA funds are intended for something like this request, and town committees have a lot of leeway in their interpretation of CPA funds, sometimes pushing the envelope on the original intent of the funds.

Committee member B. Lynne Barbee asked how the funds would be redistributed since the requested amount is not in the recreation fund currently.

“I would hate to see other open space recreation money be gone for this one project,” Ms. Barbee said.

The committee has discretion in using any of the appropriate budgets to fund the project, Mr. Gottlieb said.

The committee can combine funds from different sources, Mashpee Finance Director Dawn M. Thayer said, recommending that the committee do a division between the budget for appropriation and the uncommitted fund balance and not dip into the open space/recreation reserve.

Mr. Gottlieb agreed with Ms. Thayer’s statement.

Committee member Brian Hyde said he is in support of the project but struggled with a few key elements. There needs to be more conversations around funding and community use of the facilities, he said.

“I do support the project, but I’d like to have another conversation. I think we need more time to discuss the funding because the $1.7 million for me, you know, that’s a lot of money,” he said. “Who was at the table when this was designed and thought of with community preservation funds? I would really like a little more opportunity for the community to exercise and utilize it, that is all.”

The Mashpee Public Schools has been looking at renovating the track-and-field stadium for at least three to four years, Ms. DeBoer said.

Addressing Mr. Hyde’s comments, Ms. DeBoer said at this stage of the project the school district cannot publicly comment on public access until things are finalized. With the support of the CPC, Capital Improvement Committee and the voters, the project is ready to go if fully approved, she said.

“If it gets through this stage and CIP, at that time in between we will make sure it is well-communicated in terms of what access is available to all townspeople, what we will do for our school and our students and the families and then the impact on the voter, but that is all coming in the February to June time frame,” she said.

The middle-high school has grown in terms of needs for its facilities, the superintendent said.

“The track itself is is widely used, granted not during school hours by the general public, but after school hours and on weekends,” she said. “The whole concept of creating this sort of stadium, multi-use field and track is really going to generate a sort of a hub for multiple sports, and not only the sports that are taking place at the middle-high school but also for town sports, rec sports and then the potential of outside groups that might want to use the facility is there, too.”

Addressing comments regarding the synthetic materials used in constructing the turf, Ms. DeBoer said, “This group is really looking at the track and, there, the addition of a watering hydration station for all the athletes to use. [There’s] also an additional walkway that allows those who are the visitors to not have to walk on the track to get to their side into their bleachers and then some new fencing around there as well.”

“We haven’t had a recommendation from the CIP committee yet on this one. But we have the opportunity to trim and modify the allocation of money from the different pots that are identified, right up to Town Meeting,” Mr. Gottlieb said.

Mashpee Finance Committee representative John W. Miller asked if the $1.7 million of these funds used for the project would adversely impact any subsequent open space development opportunities that the town may want to put forth.

Money is replenished into the fund every time people pay their quarterly tax bills, Mr. Gottlieb said in response. There will still be several million dollars remaining in funds, should the project be approved, he said.

“Yes, there will be a reduction in money. Spending the money, the balance will go down, but the balance replenishes itself over time,” Mr. Gottlieb said.

Mr. Miller, who said he is generally in support of the project, questioned if the project had been scaled back to make the project proposal more palatable for funding purposes.

“I would just inject some caution as everybody contemplates what to do, particularly when it gets to the selectmen, and then the Town Meeting if it gets that far, to evaluate this almost $3 million commitment that’s being sought in the context of how that might play out over a five- or 10-year period, given that there’s other real estate on the school grounds that might deserve the same attention,” Mr. Miller said.

The proposal will allow for other sports teams and groups to use the facilities and field, Mr. Gottlieb said.

“I think we’ve displayed as a community the ability to take stock of where we are and what our resources are and to make judgments about the projects that are being recommended to us,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “So I’d be reluctant to not proceed with this because somebody might want something else school-related five years from now. They probably will. I don’t know.”

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