FOXBOROUGH — The town will build a new turf athletic complex at its newly renovated high school, after a majority of voters approved the $1.6 million project during Tuesday’s Special Town Meeting.
A second phase of the effort, which calls for a track, bleachers, and other amenities — at an additional cost of $1.8 million — could come up for a vote at another time.
Selectmen chairman James DeVellis, a driving force in the Turf’s Up community group that has pushed to build the field, said he was thrilled and thankful for the support of an idea that began around a cup of coffee following a practice that was canceled because of poor field conditions.
The group has raised more than $400,000 over four years through a golf tournament, candy drives, other fund-raisers, donations, and a $200,000 National Football League community field grant that has already been renewed once and is set to expire in May if not used.
“I think that is a wonderful model for other responsible projects,’’ DeVellis said. “Because this is such a shared opportunity with broad support, I know the field will be taken care of and used responsibly because it has all of our sweat on it.”
Foxborough is the last in the Hockomock League to build such a facility, officials said, and Tuesday’s approval wasn’t reached without lengthy and ardent debate.
Getting the green light took three votes: a voice vote that was counted at 298-99, a subsequent 260-129 hand count, and a failed motion to reconsider by opponents, who insist the town has more pressing capital needs.
After the first vote, droves of residents, many with young children, headed for the door of the high school auditorium where the meeting was held, as dozens of opponents who wanted the additional votes rose from their seats and called for them to stay.
The warrant article approved spending $125,000 from the town’s overlay surplus account, another $75,000 from the school budget, and a $1 million surplus from the recent high school renovation.
Turf’s Up will contribute the NFL grant and other money, as well as services including tree removal and $139,000 in engineering and design costs.
The field will be located in the area currently occupied by the varsity baseball field and the adjoining fields, which will all be moved to an area behind the high school.
As he introduced the controversial warrant article, Advisory Committee chairman Larry Thomas said the panel voted 9-3 against recommending passage of the article because the approximately $1.2 million coming from the town and schools could go to more immediate needs, including looming debt service and needed improvements at the Burrell School.
“We are not against a turf field in the town of Foxborough,’’ Thomas said. “Our group believes this $1 million should be applied to the next large project.”
Residents Mary Lou Pike and Dennis Naughton agreed.
“I was young once, but now I’m a senior citizen and I will vote against this because it is low on my priority list,’’ Pike said. “My position is not against the turf field, but for priorities and responsibilities.”
“It’s not a bad idea,’’ said Naughton. “There are just more important ways to spend our money.”
Another opponent, Charles Liftman, said he had too many unanswered questions about increased injuries and toxins related to turf surfaces to support it. And, he said, “I’m a little surprised the School Committee prioritized this. Our debts aren’t going to go away.”
But School Committee member Bruce Gardner said the opportunity to build a turf field not only makes school sports more competitive, it also saves on transportation and field costs.
Addressing criticisms that the funds should go toward education, he and other supporters said the Foxborough public schools always invest in the students and, furthermore, do not charge them fees to play sports.
“Yes, we do have future projects, but to us it’s not a case of if we have to do this, but when,” he said.
Supporters said one turf field is equivalent to having four to five grass fields because games can be played back to back, with no worries about overuse. Teams can also play and practice on a turf field in any weather, and the fields are never closed because of bad weather or the risk of “beating up” grass fields, they said.
Also, having to reschedule games and practices on grass fields in bad weather or unsafe conditions has been a recurring and frustrating problem that causes youth sports seasons to be consistently cut short, town recreation director Debbie Giardino said.
Safety is also an issue, she added, with some teams forced to play on the same fields at the same time.
Limits on teams would also start occurring because the town doesn’t have enough fields, she said before Tuesday’s vote. “And Foxborough has never turned a child away,” said Giardino.