[No. 02] Newton, Mass.: For now, school committee member opposes artificial turf at Newton South High School. SynTurf.org, Newton, Mass. June 15, 2008. Geoff Epstein, a member of the Newton School Committee stated in a Newton community blog this morning, “I favor implementing a drainage solution for the [Newton] South [High School] fields with natural grass surfaces, for cost and environmental reasons. Full maintenance for the grass has to be part of that package. If after several years of use it has proven impossible to maintain the grass fields in good condition with the use required by NSHS and if synthetic turf has by then been proven to be environmentally safe, I would be OK with one field being switched to turf.”
Epstein was responding to a constituent inquiry by Anatol Zukerman, an architect, as to Epstein’s view on the multi-million dollar project to convert the fields at Newton South High School from natural grass to artificial turf. For SynTurf.org’s reporting on Newton South fields, go to http://www.synturf.org/thenewtonbrief.html.
On the basis of SynTurf.org’s on-site observations, the South fields are still playable but not without inconveniences brought about by an inadequate drainage infrastructure, and a decade of neglect in maintenance and improvements.
No. 01] The Newton Brief,
by Guive Mirfendereski, November 17, 2007.
In many communities playing fields are a manner of capping an old and oversubscribed municipal dump. In other communities the playing fields are created in wetlands areas, including in peat ponds. These installations offer unique engineering challenges in that the geology and hydrology of the venues tend to evolve over time and with it comes upheavals, differential settling, flooding and, if on a dump site, the emergence of rocks and rubbish from the substrata.
In Wellesley, Massachusetts, the Sprague School fields were built on top of a municipal dump that first was capped prior to the lying down of the soil/dirt and natural grass. The apparent breach of the cap over time led to the emergence of debris from the underworld. The state's department of environmental affairs ordered the town to remediate the situation, which meant to re-establish the integrity of the cap. The town officials and a very boisterous sports lobby saw an opportunity to advance the theory that the remediation order was a call for turning the grass fields into artificial turf fields. A consulting firm was hired to assess the best option for the rejuvenation of the 'deteriorating' fields. Not unexpectedly, the firm's presentation exalted the virtue of natural grass but offered artificial turf as the best option. SynTurf.org sat through a few meetings that discussed the turf project for the Sprague School fields. SynTurf.org also visited the fields, which it found to be in good and playable condition.
One question that will dog any field built on top of a capped dump is how it will withstand the upheavals and differential settling in the ground itself. The medium- to long-term structural stability and viability of the fields require that each project, grass or turf, take an adequate inventory of what is under the ground and how it will affect the playing fields and the immediate environment. For example, the old dump sites did not require a discharge monitoring system. The newly-capped dumps do. In the case of Sprague School fields, a remediation of the cap according to new standards would require the environmental monitoring of the discharge from the fields in the form of leachate of the waste that is stored underground.
In Newton, Massachusetts, too, the unknowns about environmental impact and condition of the ground brought to a halt an ambitious $4.5 million-project to convert some 5 acres of existing natural grass playing fields into synthetic turf fields in the Newton South High School area. They were built more than 70 years ago on wetlands.
The Newton South fields project was almost a done deal in 2006, as though 'fast-tracked' by the city officials in order to bypass any opposition to the project from a 'rag-tag' assortment of detractors. They included fiscal conservatives, abutters, and environmental skeptics. At first, the loudest opposition against the project came from fiscal conservatives in the city, who were divided into two groups: the generally thrift-oriented folks, who opposed the price tag for the project, and the persons who questioned the legality of the funding of the project under the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act (General Laws, chapter 44B). As the legal issue headed to court, the abutters raised objections about the environmental impact of the project on their homes and street. The environmentalists focused on the environmental and health aspects of artificial turf. In early 2007 the city backed down from funding the project with Community Preservation Act monies. The discussion of environmental and health issues associated with artificial turf continued to linger well into November 2007.
One of the critical contributions made by the abutters was the bringing forth of a 1977 study of the area in question, which pointed out to the area being prone to differential settling and flooding. The emergence of that study from the dust of history and the rekindling of institutional memories resulted in one civic entity after another sound a cautionary alarm about proceeding with the project without adequate studying of the geotechnical aspects of any renovation of the fields, natural grass, turf, or a combination thereof.
The articles below set forth the various concerns raised by the community with respect to the environmental, health, geological and hydrological aspects of the field renovation project at newton South fields, in newton, Massachusetts:
No. 01.A]A Blast from the Past: The 1977 Fuller Report
[Editor's Note: Set forth is the digest of a 6-page report by Brewster W. Fuller, a state-registered professional engineer and landscape architect. The report was made in 1977 with respect to geology, hydrology and other factors affecting the the proposed construction of an open air stadium in the Newton South High School neighborhood. Brought to light by a South Newton resident, Susan Allen, the Aldermanic Committee on Community Preservation included a copy of the report in its supporting documents/agenda (Docket # 297-06) of the meeting on October 24, 2006. Many of the issues raised by the report then confronted the community in 2006-07. Among other things, the report predicted accurately the woe that since visited the school's track and field area.
Particulars of the Report: Engineer Brewster W. Fuller, Whitman & Howard, Inc., 45 William Street, Wellesley, Mass. 02161. Telephone (617) 237-5000. In 2006-07, Mr. Brewster resided in East Bridgewater, Mass. and could be reached at (508) 378-1504. Date of Report: October 18, 1977. Subject of Report: Proposed site development for an open-air stadium in the area located near the Newton South High School, Meadowbrook Junior High School and Oak Hill Elementary School and Playgroundper plans on file at the Department of Engineering captioned “Preliminary Plans 10/6/77.”
Findings of the Report:The peat underneath the wetlands area extends to a depth of as much as 35 feet. Flooding occurs on properties along Brandeis Road, making the use of sump pumps in basements a requirement. Plants, animals and birds observed in the ecosystem of the wetlands area include 91 plant species, 71 bird species, and 6 animals. Recommendation of the Report
The project "not to be permitted to proceed for the following reasons:"
"1. Due to the inherent compressibility of peat, any filling placed on top of the existing fill will undoubtedly result in differential settling which could cause failure in the proposed track pavement surface. This settlement could also cause pipe failures in either the drainage system or the irrigation system or both."
2. The required grading may restrict the amount of acreage available for fields.
"3. Any surcharging of the existing filled land adjacent to the wetland will cause displacement of the water table resulting in additional water being forced upon the abutting homes which are now subjected to periodic flooding."
4. Under severe conditions the proposed drainage system would be surcharged and could cause additional flooding of the wetland and abutting properties.
5. No provision for sight and sound barriers.
6. Car traffic and parking woes.
"7. The impact on the birds and animals in particular, who as habitants of the wetland are adjusted to their environment, could be seriously affected by the proposed project. The affect on the plant families in the wetland might not be quite so overwhelming; however, an increase of pollution in the wetlands which could result from careless refuse disposal might alter the ecosystem enough to adversely affect the plant life."
8.Increase in air pollution due to concentration of vehicles.
"9. Although an Environmental Impact Statement has not to my knowledge been made, and in fact may not be required, it is my opinion that if such a statement were prepared the undesirable and adverse environmental aspects of the proposed project would far outweigh the anticipated benefits."
End of document _/
No. 01.B] League opposes Newturf plan, letter to editor from Susan Rosenbaum to the editor, Newton TAB, Septemebr13, 2006.
The League of Women Voters of Newton remains concerned about many of the issues we raised when the proposal to install artificial turf at Newton South High School was heard by the Community Preservation Committee in November 2005. We have carefully listened to discussions unfolding in the community and in the Community Preservation Committee's deliberations. Still, we question the wisdom and appropriateness of using CPA money to fund rebuilding of these fields. We have reservations about the proposed large commitment of CPA funds for this project. The NSHS fields are important to community athletics and need maintenance. A capital project to restructure the fields may be wise for the city to undertake as it plans ahead for several years of Newton North High School construction that will take those fields out of play. However, although a tenuous legal argument may be made to justify this as a CPA project on the basis of 'expanding recreational opportunity.' we do not believe this project meets the intent of the CPA law. We also question the priority status implied by dedicating such a a large share of the fund to this project. The CPC's obligation under the statute is to recommend funds according to a community-wide needs assessment. Can we honestly sat that this project represents a need commensurate with our insufficient affordable housing, acquisition/protection of open space, and protection of deteriorating historic properties? Further, attending to water issues is of paramount importance. South Meadow Brook, which runs under the fields, regularly floods downstream areas. Flooding is an immense potential liability for the city and could ultimately cost more than this proposal. Therefore, flood control should be coordinated with the Conservation Commission and with other projects in this watershed area. We also fear that a strong advocacy campaign may lead to hasty approval of this project. Using this material in this location, requires vetting thoroughly and realistically of both first and long term maintenance and replacement costs We urge the Aldermen to proceed with the utmost scrutiny as they assess this large request for CPA funds. Susan Rosenbaum, President, League of Women Voters
No. 01.C] Delay on turf decision provides opportunity for analysis,by Kevin Dutt and Brooke K. Lipsitt, in NewtonTAB, June 27, 2007 (print), available online on Tue Jun 26, 2007, 03:36 PM EDT, at http://www.townonline.com/newton/opinions/x595658227 . The Board of Aldermen has yet to act on [Newton, Massachusetts] Mayor Cohen’s request for funds to install synthetic turf at Newton South High School and, at this point, seems unlikely to act before fall. We hope that members of the Programs & Services Committee, to whom this item has been assigned, will take advantage of the summer to initiate a comprehensive assessment of synthetic versus natural turf options to ensure a sustainable solution for the NSHS fields — one which will address economic, environmental and community concerns. The economic analysis should include a life cycle assessment of all costs that will be incurred with each option. We recommend analysis over a period of 50 years, in order to take fully into account the need for replacement or restoration of the fields. This must include not only the initial costs, but also the maintenance, drainage and replacement costs of each option. It should also clearly identify areas where projected costs may vary widely or have great uncertainty. Even if the financial analysis shows no difference over the period of study, both options have environmental — ecological, health and safety — impacts that must be closely examined. Examination of these issues should include both site-specific and neighborhood impacts. The community needs to know whether the challenges presented by the geology and hydrology at this site, a filled wetland, are being fully taken into account. There is a long history of problems relating to surface water management with the current grass fields. Any successful new site design must include a comprehensive drainage plan to provide for well-drained fields and also ensure that stormwater can and will be controlled on site so as not to burden city storm sewers and to ameliorate or, at least, have no negative effect on adjacent properties. For users, we need to know the facts, not just the rumors, about the level and type of injury associated with each surface and whether or not there exists a legitimate hazard related to inhaling particulates from artificial turf. We must also be sure that synthetic turf will not leach contaminants into soils and groundwater. These concerns must be weighed carefully against health issues related to the use of pesticides and fertilizers if needed to maintain natural fields. We must know whether and the extent to which there may be significant heat island effects. Finally, it is important to consider whether there are additional costs or benefits associated with installing synthetic turf on multiple fields covering several acres. A carefully prepared landscape plan for the fields should include provisions for maintenance access and may become a factor in the decision depending on the limits on layout due to distances between fields that are required. The city should review examples of multiple-field installations in other locations before making a final decision, learning from the experience and actual data collected by other communities that have installed synthetic turf. It is not immediately clear that this needs to be an all-or-none decision; it may be appropriate to have a combination of natural and synthetic turf fields. We urge the mayor and Board of Aldermen to take this opportunity to gather and critically review all of the information on maintenance requirements, costs, performance, player injuries, microclimate, etc., that has been assembled, being careful to compare the relative site conditions in the process. The fact that synthetic turf is the current fashion does not mean that it is necessarily a superior or inferior choice for our particular application. Newton deserves a smart, sustainable solution for its athletic fields just as it does for its buildings, and we urge the board to move deliberately and thoughtfully in your consideration of this item. Kevin Dutt and Brooke K. Lipsitt are co-chairmen of the High Performance Building Coalition.
Many voices have added to the cacophony in the debate over what should be done to “fix” the playfields adjacent to Newton South High School and two other schools nearby, where school children and extra-curricular sports leagues are often unable to play because the fields are wet.
Proponents of installing artificial turf justify the need for the lingering NewTurf proposal by repeating the complaint that the fields are not useable for many days of the year. This is absolutely true. However, proponents seem to be proposing a “solution” before the problem has been properly diagnosed by the right professional people. The wet fields are due to the geographic location of the playfields, which sit within a bowl-shaped depression that is a low point in a complex network of brooks. The history of this area as a swamp goes back more than 100 years. Under today’s state wetland protection laws, it could never have been filled in.
These playfields are part of the South Meadow Brook Watershed and drainage area that comprises 1,867 acres. South Meadow Brook begins at Lost Pond in Brookline, meanders through Ward 8 of Newton, is joined by Hahn Brook, Paul Brook, Stearns Brook, Dickerman Brook and a series of storms drains before flowing into the Charles River near the intersection of Oak and Needham streets. The archives at the Newton History Museum have numerous newspaper articles, maps and reports from city agencies that reveal serious flooding on Oak St. in Newton Upper Falls, and along Parker Street and Dedham Street in the past. There have been flooded homes and backyards across Ward 8. Most of South Meadow Brook is now in a culvert that runs below the NSHS playfields and under Parker Street. One map shows a junction, presumably within culverts, of South Meadow Brook with Hahn Brook below the open area right next to Newton South High School.
Engineers have worked on the brooks and the “problems” of flooding in this watershed for almost 100 years. In January 1985, the Newton Conservation Commission issued a four-page memorandum on the Oak Hill Playground Land and the South Meadow Brook Watershed area. Elected officials should all read this, digest it and ask questions before they vote on any proposal that alleges to “fix” the wet playfields.
Political pressure from athletic interests, parents and devotees of organized sports is not in the best interest of the city, nor is it in the best long-range interest of property owners downstream in Ward 8 and Ward 5 who might be subjected to flooding in the future if this project is built.
Newton residents and taxpayers are entitled to a public, transparent study and report that provides: · An understandable analysis of why the fields are wet so often. · Recommendations as to what could be done to remedy the situation. · A list of all the options to make the fields useable for sports. · The estimated costs for each option. · Alternative methods of paying for each option, such as long-term bonding or within a capital improvements program. · And, finally, whether the cost should be handled by the School Department or the city side of the budget. Priscilla M. Leith is an Auburndale resident who has 20 years of experience in water resources with the League of Women Voters.
Turf issues. The Green Decade Coalition/Newton (GDC/N) urges the Board of Aldermen to require a comprehensive assessment of the environmental impact for the proposed Newton South High School synthetic turf, prior to moving forward with any decision. The GDC/N understands that there are many factors (economics, usage, maintenance, etc.) that must be weighed in determining whether or not to install synthetic turf. However, we feel that the environmental factors have not been weighed adequately to make an informed decision. Included in an environmental assessment, the City should perform a comprehensive environmental life cycle assessment of the synthetic turf against the best natural alternatives, which would be a grass field using organic fertilizers and the appropriate drainage system to mitigate runoff problems. This life cycle assessment would include the evaluation of installation impact, water use, fertilizers, maintenance, and replacement over a 50-year life period. A geotechnical analysis must also be conducted. We understand this analysis is part of the proposal to build the Field Turf. The decision should be made separately from one related to synthetic turf, as it could have similar implications for natural turf. Finally, since the fields ultimately drain into the Charles River, we need to include assessments from the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA), allowing us to analyze the runoff implications. This assessment should investigate water runoff implications of the installation as well as the impacts of regular use. We understand that there is an environmental cost to maintaining the natural fields or installing synthetic alternatives, and that there is great pressure to use and enjoy the public lands. However, the environmental factors will ultimately have direct impact on the health and safety of our children and the City, and we feel that it is imperative that we understand these implications before moving forward with the synthetic turf option. This statement from GDC/N was sent to all members of the Board of Aldermen and published in the Newton TAB newspaper.