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$3m override sought for athletic fields

Selectmen question cost estimates, legal status

Millis residents taking part in this week’s fall Town Meeting will be asked to consider a property-tax increase of $3 million to renovate and build new athletic facilities.

The proposal for a debt-exclusion override of Proposition 2½ to pay for the project comes from a citizens petition organized by David Baker, who said the work is needed to make the town’s track-and-field facilities safer and up to regulation, and to reduce scheduling conflicts.

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“I have tried to deliver a strong message about the inadequacy, overuse, and unsafe conditions of our current fields,” Baker, a School Committee member who also serves on the town’s Community Preservation Act Committee, wrote in an e-mail. “We need to act quickly to address these issues, and I offered one possible solution.”

With his petition article, Baker suggested a plan for the town’s athletic facilities that included a design for a new track-and-field complex with synthetic turf, the relocation of two baseball diamonds, and renovations to three practice fields.

Baker’s plan is preliminary, however, and the proposed budget of about $2.5 million that he presented to selectmen on Oct. 21 is only an estimate of what the construction project would cost. The $3 million debt exclusion is unlikely to be enough to cover construction and maintenance costs, he told selectmen.

An exact location for the new facility has not been determined, Baker said, and feasibility studies for siting and design considerations will be necessary before the budget could be finalized.

As a result, the Finance Committee decided to recommend against approving the proposal at Town Meeting, which convenes Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Millis Middle/High School auditorium. Although the Board of Selectmen does not need to make a recommendation, the board has expressed uncertainty over Baker’s proposal as well.

‘There are a number of questions that still need to be addressed.’

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Chairman Charles Vecchi said the proposal “does not address all of the problems that the town has pertaining to the athletic fields,” according to minutes of the Oct. 21 meeting.

The selectmen had concerns that the proposal was premature, according to Town Administrator Charles Aspinwall. “There are a number of questions that still need to be addressed,’’ he said, “including cost estimation, legal status of the town parks, and state legislation.”

The cost to taxpayers, if the override is approved, had not been determined, Aspinwall said.

The Board of Selectmen will, however, recommend approval of another article on the warrant that would allocate $30,000 for further studies of the town fields, though no decision as to who would lead the studies had been made.

The grass playing fields and track facilities are not adequate for the high school or town programs, said Baker, whose three children have been involved in town and school sports.

He quoted a 2005 feasibility study commissioned by the school district that stated “the condition of these facilities, although well-maintained, is generally poor for the delivery of safe and adequate competitive athletic programs due to their materials and configuration.”

During the past decade, according to Baker’s presentation, Millis has lost 194,400 square feet of game-ready field space available to the high school, a reduction from four full-size grass soccer and football fields to one. This single grass field does not meet league standards for soccer matches, and just barely meets them for football games, he said. The high school’s track has not met league standards for 12 years, so even “home’’ meets for Millis teams must be held in other towns.

In addition, the field conditions are expected to worsen, due to overuse and inability to rest and rotate the grass. Baker noted that while Millis has only grass fields, many of the high school’s rivals in the Tri-Valley League have artificial turf fields and synthetic tracks.

He suggests that implementing an artificial turf system in at least some areas, in addition to increasing the number of fields, would help prevent excess damage and make maintaining facilities easier.

“My hope is that Millis residents will come together and develop an acceptable master plan to rebuild and add to our existing sports facilities,’’ Baker said, in time for consideration by Town Meeting in the spring.

Town Meeting voters will also consider a proposal to repeal the temporary moratorium on medical marijuana treatment centers that it adopted by Town Meeting in May 2013.

The proposal would allow medical marijuana treatment centers to open with special permission from the Planning Board if they meet town zoning restrictions and existing state regulations.

The issue was discussed informally at a public meeting on Sept. 24, and then again on Oct. 22, and the Planning Board will recommend its approval at Town Meeting. The Board of Selectmen did not take a position on the article.

The moratorium was put into effect until June 30, 2014, as a way to provide time for local officials to settle on zoning restrictions that would meet state and town regulations for the newly legalized facilities.

Rebecca Kagle can be reached at rkagle13@gmail.com.
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