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$3.6m Medway athletic complex OK’d, but rift remains

Opponents question spending on 3 fields

Medway’s Town Meeting might have officially settled a turf war last month but hard feelings remain.

The approval of a plan to build a $3.6 million athletic complex — including the construction of two new artificial-turf playing fields and replacing the high school’s existing grass field with a third turf surface — continues to divide residents as the town now turns its attention to maintaining and sustaining the fields in the future.

There is also some question about whether the tension over the project, slated to be completed by the end of this fall, stems from issues related to building the athletic fields, or is a manifestation of a divide between longtime residents and the town’s newer arrivals, often younger families with children in the local schools.

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“I think it’s more just that some people like myself, we are a little more — just — pragmatic,” said longtime resident Steven Lee, an opponent of the fields proposal and an unsuccessful candidate for selectman last month.

“We are a little more cautious and careful and [other] people want what they want. I get that argument. Some people are paying 10, 11 grand a year in taxes. I get the argument ‘I want this for my kids.’

“Then there are people in town like my parents who are struggling to pay taxes,” he said.

For proponents of the complex, which was approved by Town Meeting on May 12, the new fields are a long-overdue release valve for burgeoning athletic programs, including youth leagues and high school teams, that have to compete for space. Unlike grass surfaces, artificial turf does not need to be rested, so play can take place continuously, with lower regular maintenance costs.

Opponents say the project only benefits young athletes and their families, and its price tag fuels the perception the town values athletics over other priorities.

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More than half of the project’s funds will be drawn from the town’s Community Preservation Act account, which has to be used for historical preservation, affordable housing, open space or recreation projects. The rest of the money will come from the town’s general account.

Proponents say rental fees that have yet to be determined will defray the cost of the fields, while opponents say the town will be on the hook for the majority of the cost of replacing the artificial turf hauling away the old turf and having new material installed in 10 to 15 years.

“The only remaining issue as far as I’m concerned with respect to the fields is the method that will be developed to pay for maintenance and replacement,” Town Administrator Suzanne Kennedy said. “The fields won’t be constructed for some time, and that will be adequate time to hammer out a deal on those issues.”

Kennedy said she would support a plan to have the users pay into an account set up for maintenance and replacement.

“There’s got to be a way of finding a reasonable solution to paying for these expenses in the future,” she said.

While some are fixed on the future, others remain irked that many of the project’s supporters fled the Town Meeting session as soon as the complex won approval — even if their excuse for leaving was to watch the Bruins’ playoff game. Still, Kirk Souza, who spoke against the project at Town Meeting, credited proponents of the plan for mobilizing support better than its opponents had.

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“They got the votes and that’s all that counts,” he said in a telephone interview last week.

Souza has lived in Medway for five years and has three children, including two that play youth soccer. But he still thinks the town would be better off focusing on other priorities, such as free full-day kindergarten for low-income families.

A lot of older residents don’t support the new athletic fields because “there’s nothing in it for them,” he said. “It doesn’t benefit kids who don’t play sports. It doesn’t affect seniors in town.”

Board of Selectmen chairman Glenn Trindade took issue with the idea that the town puts too much emphasis on athletics and that full-day kindergarten should be a top priority. He said that only three families switched from half-day kindergarten after the School Committee lowered the full-day program’s tuition by $1,000 in April.

“In Medway the schools get 75.6 percent of all our available revenue,” he said. “The schools are flat-out the number one priority in the town. Period.”

Trindade also said an “overwhelmingly vast majority” of residents supported the project because they have children who will make use of the fields. He said nearly all of the town’s boards supported the measure unanimously, and the few residents who spoke against the project at Town Meeting had not attended any of the public meetings on the issue over the last two years.

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The issue also spilled into Trindade’s reelection bid against Lee, who campaigned against the athletic complex. Of the 890 votes cast in the race on May 20, Trindade won by 56.

After the funding for the artificial turf fields was approved, several local sports organizations, including Medway Youth Soccer and Medway Youth Baseball, e-mailed supporters to thank them for voting at Town Meeting, and to remind them to vote in the town election.

Greg Rogers, a member of the Massachusetts Society of CPAs’ Nonprofit Accounting & Auditing Committee, said charities can engage in “a limited amount of lobbying activity,” but engaging in “electoral activities” could jeopardize a group’s tax-exempt status.

After the Town Meeting vote, Medway Youth Football president Craig Hundertmark wrote an e-mail that asked recipients to support Trindade. Hundertmark sent the May 19 e-mail from his personal account, but its tagline said Medway Youth Football.

“Please take the time and go to the Middle School tomorrow to vote for Glenn for selectman,” Hundertmark wrote. “Glenn has been a champion of youth sports and was one of the driving forces on [the] 2 new all purpose lighted fields project that was just passed.”

In a telephone interview, Hundertmark said he sent the e-mail to about 400 people and that he also made telephone calls to ask residents to support Trindade.

“The intent of the e-mail was to get individuals out to vote and certainly did not intend to step over any lines,” he said. “I was not aware that I was doing anything wrong by sending the e-mail, and certainly would not have ever sent it.”

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Trindade said he was not aware of Hundertmark’s e-mail.

A lifelong Medway resident, Lee, 43, said those lobbying efforts motivated people on both sides of the issue to vote, and didn’t account for “100 percent” of the reasons why he lost.

Still, Lee said of Hundertmark’s e-mail: “I wouldn’t have done it if I was on the board of a nonprofit. I would not have if I was that particular person.”


Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.