The proposed “Edison Fields Project” announced at the June 15, 2021 Town Council meeting has become a hot topic of conversation, particularly in Wards 3 and 4 and within the various sports associations with “Westfield” in their name. The proposed project at EIS would include almost 9 acres of continuous synthetic turf, virtually all the grassy area behind the school. Three (3) multi use athletic fields would be integrated into the existing JV and Varsity baseball fields. Lighting towers (14) and a building for restrooms, storage and concession stand round out the plan at an enormous cost of $18.2mm.
While there is nearly unanimous agreement that the town has suffered for years from a lack of field capacity, there’s no consensus as to a solution. If I were to point to the root of the stalemate, it would be with one word; LIGHTS. There are essentially no options left in town where a lit field would not impact residents. Any time a project is proposed, synthetic turf and lights are part of the scope. Synthetic turf is “needed” for playability and the cost of turf necessitates maximizing playing time which leads straight to lights. Lights generate nighttime activity on the field as well as traffic on the streets, both of which are unnatural in suburban residential neighborhoods after sunset. Resistance to the project is met and inevitably it gets shelved. So goes the cycle for the past 15 years.
The proposed project at Edison is no different. It’s a massive proposal with synthetic turf and lights, requiring about a MILLION pounds of ground up tires as infill creating a 400,000 sq.ft. heat island. It’s also right across the street from Kehler Stadium which already brings tons of activity, traffic and parking issues into the neighborhood. It directly impacts dozens of homes that border the property. I can’t think of a more invasive, unhealthy, less green solution to this problem.
So, here’s a wild thought. Break the cycle! Skip synthetic turf and lights in favor of improved grass fields. Broaden the proposed partnership with the Board of Education to include more of their properties whose fields desperately need improvement. Build multiple grass fields on BoE and Town properties with proper soil, drainage and grass varieties so they offer far more playable hours than today. Hire a certified Sports Turf Manager to ensure that all fields in town (grass and synthetic) are safe and properly maintained for sports activity.
The BoE wins from improved school properties for student’s gym classes and recess. Taxpayers win from the much lower cost of grass fields vs. synthetic (more money for other park improvements). The sports programs win from additional field capacity after a 15-year stalemate. The mayor and town council win by delivering a “green” solution to the town’s lack of athletic field capacity. Most importantly our children benefit from having a healthy, natural surface to play on.
Gregg Lehmberg, a resident trying to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.