SWAMPSCOTT — Despite two unsuccessful votes at the annual Town Meeting last month, the public-private plan to rebuild Blocksidge Field is unlikely to go away.
“Town Meeting spoke and that plan went down to defeat,” said Selectman Jill Sullivan, a member of the All For One Field Committee that championed a plan to rebuild the town’s varsity football field as a multisport, artificial-surface facility. “That doesn’t mean the need will go away. The question becomes, can we find a palatable way to get it done, some time in the future?”
In retrospect, Sullivan and group president Linso van der Burg agreed that proponents of the project failed to adequately communicate that the $2.55 million plan would not require any exclusion of Proposition 2½, and failed to dispel community health concerns — including concerns about toxins — that they felt were adequately dealt with in current studies, including one from the Environmental Protection Agency.
They felt Town Meeting members would recognize the benefits as they did: with a plan to raise at least $750,000 in private funds (they had pledges for $450,000) and with assorted projects coming off the town’s books in fiscal year 2014, this was a solution to a crumbling facility and over-stressed recreational fields elsewhere in town. The borrowing for the field project would replace other debt within the budget, creating no change in the town’s tax rate.
“From our perspective, we probably did go in thinking that this was a slam dunk,” van der Burg admitted.
‘From our perspective, we probably did go in thinking that this was a slam dunk.’
With no change to the tax rate and about 30 percent coming from private donations, “Why wouldn’t the town go for this? Everybody agreed that the need was there.”
A majority of Town Meeting members favored the plan, but in two different votes, it failed to reach the required two-thirds majority.
The All For One Field group doesn’t have a plan to reintroduce the proposal, but it may have discovered a new group of allies.
A recent meeting brought together some of those who supported the plan and some of those who didn’t.
The results suggest that the plan could resurface, possibly as soon as the fall Town Meeting.
The gathering was orchestrated by former longtime School Committee member Richard Feinberg, who said that after “contentious” Town Meeting debate, he felt it would be “a good idea to get both sides to sit down in an informal setting. We had a nice conversation about the pros and cons of the project and what needs to be done.”
The group included Sullivan and two other selectmen, along with eight others, including those who spoke in favor and those who voiced opposition to the article. The meeting was open to the public, and other residents also attended.
They agreed to do some research on their areas of interest, and to forward it to the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator Thomas Younger.
For example, Feinberg said that one Board of Health member, Dr. Lawrence Block, who had raised issues at town meeting about potential adverse health impacts of the field’s crumb rubber surface, agreed to research other surfaces.
Feinberg himself has talked with National Grid about some kind of sponsorship agreement, and other members agreed to talk with other organizations.
Recently-elected Selectman Glenn Kessler, a former Recreation Commission member, agreed to research other towns’ projects, including making “field trips” to see what they’d built.
“I’d like to see a larger amount of money from the private sector,” said Kessler, who like Sullivan pointed out that the town is weighing the project against other needs, including improvements in the town’s elementary schools, and in its drainage system, which were highlighted by the severe flood issues that followed the October storm in 2011.
While van der Burg was invited, he could not attend the meeting. Nonetheless, he welcomed additional input, saying, “Anything that would move this project along would be beneficial.”