Voters Approve Sabourin Field Turf Replacement – with Health and Safety Provisions

March 26, 2024
Annual Town Meeting on Monday approved replacing the synthetic turf on Bedford High School’s Sabourin Field.

Annual Town Meeting on Monday approved replacing the synthetic turf on Bedford High School’s Sabourin Field.

An early amendment to the proposal requiring non-toxic and non-carcinogenic turf surface and infill defused environmental concerns expressed at earlier hearings. The amended motion, which added about $50,000 to the original $1.13 million bond, easily passed.

And the participation of scores of recreation and school users’ parents and coaches helped ensure the required two-thirds threshold for a bonded project. Some 600 voters were present for the vote, including several dozen overflowing from the auditorium into the BHS library.

The current surface will complete its 11th year in September, and the town’s consultant said after another year, it will no longer be suitable for use. Installation of the replacement is expected to take place between May and September 2025.

Simultaneously, the track surrounding the field also will be replaced. That $840,000 project was approved by Town Meeting on Monday as a community preservation fund expense. State law excludes synthetic fields from community preservation eligibility.

When the turf component of the capital article reached Town Meeting floor, speaking first was Seth Cargiulo, a volunteer coach with Bedford Youth Lacrosse. He labeled Sabourin Field “a critical piece of infrastructure for the town,” describing practices and games lost on wet natural grass fields in terms transcending sports, including “leadership development; physical, emotional and cognitive skills; self-discipline; self-actualization; and fulfillment.”

“The athletic field, when used properly, is just as much of a classroom as any in the schools,” he said. “Losing it would be absolutely devastating to Bedford youth programs.”

He was followed immediately by Richard Andelman, who proposed the amendment. He called it “a common-sense solution” already implemented by Watertown and other communities. “This sends a clear message that the town prioritizes the health and safety of residents while addressing the needs and concerns of everyone,” he said.

Andelman’s amendment included a list of products that he said would fulfill the requirements, but that part was ruled out of order by Moderator David Powell.

Seth Cargiulo, a volunteer coach with Bedford Youth Lacrosse, spoke in favor of replacing the turf on Sabourin Field. Photo by Wayne Braverman

Select Board member Emily Mitchell noted that during the bidding process, the town will have the opportunities to choose the materials, which will also feature a shock pad.

Then Cargiulo returned to the microphone, declaring, “I think this is a smart plan. We have to get alternate infills. That would be the absolute best scenario for this town.” It was not collusion, Cargiulo said afterward. “I had no idea that was going to happen. It never occurred to me that you could amend a bonding article.”

Resident Mark Pearson wondered why the amendment was needed. “I don’t think we were planning to replace the existing turf with the old technology or with known toxics,” he said.  There were no other comments on the amendment, and it passed with little opposition.

On Tuesday, Public Works Director David Manugian said, “The town will prepare bid documents based on the amendment in consultation with town counsel, as we do with all large contracts. We will include language in the bid documents for non-toxic materials, and to the extent they exist and meet the required 10-year lifespan, we will require them.”

The context for the entire discussion on Monday was set by introductory remarks from Maureen Richichi, who chairs the Board of Health. Richichi noted that the board did not take a position on the issue, but is sharing “benefits and concerns.”

She acknowledged that there are increased opportunities for physical activity, and also said that regarding infill and blades, “There is no study that is conclusive connecting exposure and disease outcomes.” Research, she said, is “inconclusive and ongoing,” and “many factors determine whether exposure can influence health.” 

Richichi added that there is data showing heat-related illnesses and higher incidence of injuries to lower and upper extremities from using a synthetic surface.

Representatives of the School Committee, Bedford Youth Lacrosse, and Bedford Youth Soccer expressed support for upgrading the field.

The only negative testimony came from resident Frank Richichi, who focused on the cost of removal and disposal of synthetic grass. There are no recycling options and the closest receiving facility is in the southern part of the country, he said.

The synthetic field is philosophically inconsistent with the town’s efforts to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions and composting, he added. “What message are we giving our children? Sometimes doing the right thing is difficult. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.”

In answer to a question from Anne Bickford, Recreation Commission Chair Robin Steele said the estimated turf cost is $850,000, with another $185,000 to be expended for site preparation and $80,000 for design and engineering. Remaining funds are contingency. 

Nicholas Howard also spoke, pointing out that the town will not realize much financial advantage if it replaces a synthetic field with highest quality natural grass.

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