Turf Field Study the Sole Town Meeting Casualty

Members of the Bedford Minutemen opened the Annual Town Meeting, following the tradition of presenting the colors. Staff photo by Wayne Braverman

Someday – maybe even today – 2023 Annual Town Meeting capital article item number 21-20 will be part of a trivia question.

That’s because the $56,650 was the only proposed expenditure that was not approved by voters. The money was to fund a study of possible sites for an additional synthetic turf field.

More than $150 million in operating and capital budgets sailed through, as Town Meeting started and ended on the same night, a rarity.

Voters approved the $5,161,128 fiscal year 2024 capital article. More than half that amount ($2,672,354) was for projects and items financed by bonding, ranging from door access controls and panic alarms in the schools to a dump truck and continuing upgrades to sewer pumping stations.

Although there were questions about many of the 28 lines in the capital article, the only outright opposition emerged at 21-20.

Several voters spoke against use of synthetic fields in general, for health and environmental reasons. Kathy Jarvis asked why Town Meeting was voting on a study for something it might not even want.

Frank Richichi cited the challenge of turf disposal once it is ready for replacement. The plastic material can’t be recycled or incinerated; it is often “hauled out of state, and there are a lot of anecdotal stories of material being dumped inappropriately.”

He also predicted rising costs of installation and noted that predictions of significant rental revenue from the current field did not materialize.

Another speaker noted that “many athletes prefer a well-maintained grass field.” He also spoke of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the plastic grass and rubber infills, as well as the high temperature of a synthetic field under certain conditions.

Margot Fleischman of the Select Board led the presentation of the Community Preservation budget at Monday’s Annual Town Meeting. Staff photo by Wayne Braverman

Elizabeth McClung asked, “How does this fit with our vision of a green Bedford?” She also noted that Bedford’s current turf field, which was completed almost 10 years ago, was planned by a committee of residents and town staff. Select Board member Emily Mitchell replied that a consultant “would help us understand all these issues people are concerned about.”

No one spoke about the need for additional turf fields or the reason the proposal has been on the town’s long-range capital plan for five years. The item was defeated, with little Town Meeting support.

The rest of the capital proposals fared better. Mitchell presented the overall article, noting that it is smaller than usual, “leaving room for larger projects we know are coming in the future.”

The 22 proposals to be funded by the tax levy are in the categories of recurring projects such as painting, technology replacement, and furniture; as well as transportation improvements, including accessible sidewalks. Mitchell also cited compliance with stormwater regulations and a tree master plan that also includes removal of diseased ash trees.

A voter’s amendment requiring the town to mandate that one of every four new vehicles run on electricity was defeated after Mitchell pointed out that there are no electric options across the board. “We always ask about the availability of electric vehicles,” she said. “Particularly with large equipment, the technology is not there yet.”

In answer to a question from resident Rich Daugherty, Mitchell said it is difficult to situate a bus shelter at the corner of South and The Great Roads. “We are talking about it, but it is not on the list for this year.”

The $1.4 million approved for expenses from the community preservation fund includes only about $484,000 for nine projects; the remainder, about $906,000, covers installments for bonded debt. The largest project expense is $152,000 for work at the Buehler Conservation Area. Fleischman said the plan is “to replace a berm that’s essentially holding the water back.” 

Two other expenses – $75,570 to replace elevator controls in Old Town Hall and $71,500 for work on the roof at Job Lane House – are maintenance projects that could be included in the capital article. 

But because of the age of the buildings, the state helps pay for the work through its share of the community preservation revenue, Fleischman noted. She said this year state funds represent 44 cents on each dollar from Bedford taxpayers.

Although the fiscal year 2024 project list is modest, the long-range plan for community preservation funding shows more than $3 million targeted for the following two years.

Most of the bonded indebtedness expires over the next five years, Fleischman noted.

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