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Hingham

Field plan cost under scrutiny

Facing an estimated $4.7 million price tag and an ever growing scope, town officials are coming under pressure to scale back plans for state-of-the-art athletic fields at Hingham High School.

Though many important decisions haven’t been made, the current price tag includes such options as artificial turf (nearly $1 million), lights ($320,000), and permanent bleachers ($780,000). And then there are the extra toilets required by the state.

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“I’m always disappointed when things are more expensive than we thought they would be, and I think a lot of citzens would share that thought as well,” said Superintendent Dorothy Galo. “We don’t have a formal price. They are still looking at areas they can reduce.”

Additional permitting requirements might add on to the cost, and the Planning Board will meet again on the proposal Monday.

From the start, the project was no small feat, featuring the creation of a multipurpose athletic field, reconstruction of the baseball field, and relocation of the JV softball field.

The plan is the second phase — and the crown jewel — of a project that has already renovated the track and the tennis courts, aging facilities that were crumbling under the feet of student-athletes.

But since design began earlier this year, the cost and size of the project have slowly crept upwards, while unexpected roadblocks and state mandates have made the undertaking larger than first envisioned.

‘I’d love to bring this project down under $4 million.’

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After an ad hoc committee decided that permanent bleachers, rather than fold-up ones, would be best for the field because they block more light and sound for neighbors, officials discovered they would have to build restrooms to accompany them.

Under the state’s plumbing code, the roughly 2,000 bleacher seats would require 52 bathroom fixtures.

“Right now, the plumbing code is written for someone building a Foxborough stadium, where people are going and staying four to five hours and alcohol is served, and that’s not what we’re all about,” said Caryl Falvey, chairwoman of the School Committee. “[So] you have the right to go before the [state] plumbing board and ask for a waiver.”

The school hoped that the restrooms in the high school could help meet the requirements, but the state determined they were too far away. The town did receive a waiver for half of the fixtures, reducing the requirement to 26 (17 for females and nine for males).

Still, it comes with a cost, bumping the amenities building, which would also contain a concession stand and storage, up to $505,000.

Parking also proved to be more problematic than anticipated.

The parking lot expansion, estimated to cost $433,000, is intended to satisfy the Hingham Police Department, which says more parking spaces are needed to accommodate town functions, such as high school band concerts, Town Meetings, and graduations.

Currently, the lack of parking near the high school results in people parking along the small side roads, which angers neighbors who feel it’s unsafe. A walkway connecting the parking lot to the school would run an additional $168,000.

In the face of rising costs, school officials are looking for savings, and engineers already are coming up with costs associated with every aspect of the project.

“I’d love to bring this project down under $4 million,’’ said Falvey. “We’ve just started to scratch the surface.”

Discussions will continue into January, and school officials hope to present a final figure to Town Meeting in April. In the meantime, the high price tag and growing sphere of the work has some questioning the components.

For some residents, the plan is too much.

“You could eliminate this stadium aspect of this multipurpose field — instead of fixed bleachers you do flexible movable bleachers [to eliminate the bathrooms],” said Ben Burnham, a neighbor who favors a significantly pared-down project.

“Obviously the building itself, and that was going to have storage and concessions, it would be nice to skip that as well,’’ said Burnham, who said he recognizes the need for better facilities, but doesn’t want to break the bank. “We have a building there for concessions; if it’s not big enough, make it a bit bigger. It would certainly save the town some money.”

In addition to size, funding has been an issue.

Selectman Bruce Rabuffo said the method of funding will depend on what the final plan looks like.

“There is a lot of discussion of the size of the project, how big should it be, and are there alternatives,” he said. “Until I get all the information, I haven’t made a decision [on funding], because I don’t know what it’s going to cost me, and my most important value continues to be tax relief. So let’s see how this fits in.”

School officials feel confident that the project can be funded by private and public sources, but hope the town will cover what they see as basic amenities.

According to Galo, the students deserve at least a field with a fence around it, bleachers, some sort of public address system, and a scoreboard. “If the community wants other things, such as lights or other kinds of amenities, these are the things other community members should be picking up,’’ she said. “But it’s hard to break it down until we have that final price.”

Galo added that she doesn’t feel private donors should bear the cost of parking, as it would be something for the entire town.

While the cost may be high, sports proponents say the detailed work of committees and numerous studies have shown that all the major proposals are necessary.

Warren Pelissier, president of Hingham Sports Partnership, a private group that supports youth sports, said that Hingham isn’t in compliance with federal Title IX, which mandates equal opportunities for girls and boys sports.

Girls field hockey, for example, doesn’t have a proper field, he said. The girls play on a slanted field near the high school, without any amenities.

At the start of field hockey games, Pelissier said, “when they meet at the middle of the field and decide which team will take which end, the girls say to the coaches, ‘Do you want uphill or downhill in the first half?’ ”

If the girls can’t get a new field with the same amenities as boys, the school will have to rent facilities elsewhere to comply with the law, he said.

Furthermore, Hingham is one of only two football teams in the Patriot League without lights.

But even his group is looking at ways to cut costs.

“We are definitely looking at all possibilities,” Pelissier said. “We want to do what’s right as far as saving money in the process . . . . It seems to be a shame to go through an [intensive] process like this and not build it out properly for the town for generations to come. But if we have to back into it, we’re prepared to.”

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jesssica.may.bartlett@ gmail.com.
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