When Hurricane Ida had passed and some homes in the vicinity of the Edison School field had serious flooding, I wondered if we would be hearing about water-absorbing natural grass fields at the September 20 meeting on athletic fields at Edison. When I saw pictures of Sid Fay field with mounds of crumbled black rubber washed out of the artificial turf and the field unplayable for a while, I drove by the improved natural grass Sycamore field and saw a field in good condition, concluding that Westfield indeed might have natural grass fields in its future.
Well, I was wrong. The Recreation Commission, at the well-attended meeting, continued to propose lighted, artificial turf fields behind Edison, just less of them – “only” about 250,000 square feet versus the original 400,000 square feet “Mini Met Life Stadium”. For perspective, the new proposal is about the same area as one entire Manhattan city block. While neighbors may have been relieved to hear that New Jersey does not permit such a project to increase storm water runoff, the commission did not fully address use of the fields well into school nights and the associated lighting, noise, parking, traffic and safety issues in a normally quiet and not well lit residential neighborhood.
It is hard to believe that unlighted, improved grass fields spread throughout the town would not be an attractive alternative and why, apparently, no fields at places like Roosevelt school were considered. Why should any residential neighborhood have to deal with such a large project, especially one already coping with significant traffic and parking issues from existing athletic activities? With the PILOT money, and even without it, the Town of Westfield has the borrowing capacity and, together with the Board of Education, the inventory of unimproved grass fields to meet the acknowledged need for more fields with unlighted, improved grass fields. Indeed, one of the audience speakers noted that the shortage of fields versus peer communities was of grass fields, not artificial turf fields.
Finally, what happened to a “Green” Westfield? Paving over natural grass areas in town with plastic grass seems to be an example of what not to do if you really care about the environment or retaining the charm of the town. I encourage citizens to seek the views on this issue from current and prospective representatives on Town Council and the Board of Education before the November election.