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With the recent talk about Webster Woods and NewCAL, it is notable that there has been no discussion with regard to the maintenance of the playing fields in Newton. A not-so-secret observation by those us who regularly see and use the fields as players, coaches, referees, and parents is that they are in terrible condition. Yet, there has been virtually no action taken to restore them to a safe and appropriate condition.

Here’s an example, an analysis funded by Newton Girls Soccer of one of the soccer fields at Weeks Park. The report gave the field an overall “D” grade, or “low standard,” with individual attributes like percent of vegetative cover, weed cover, surface hardness, and water infiltration rates reaching “E.” What this all means is that a safe grass surface does not exist, that a fall on the ground is potentially dangerous, and that the fields do not drain well after rain. Further, as noted in the report:

Low Standard Rating is marginal and indicates a field that is currently fit for purpose but will likely need future remedial work to maintain playability. A Low Standard Field will continue to decline unless additional maintenance efforts and management changes are implemented quickly.

Following this analysis, the consultant was engaged by both NGS and Newton Youth Soccer to make recommendations with regard to short- and long-term measures that would bring the fields back up to standard.

In the short-term (12-18 months), “a dramatic increase in field maintenance is required to improve conditions. Given the poor field conditions and high usage there will be a higher investment needed to improve quality.”  In the longer term (18-36 months), “there is a need for a formal maintenance program that matches the usage levels and desired conditions.”

Although the report focused on just one of the large fields at Weeks Park, similar or worse conditions exist throughout the city–at Cold Spring, Albemarle, Nahanton Park, Oak Hill-Brown, etc. The comparison with fields in other towns is embarrassing, as seen in these photos in a recent NGS mailing. In my 30 years of association with the soccer program, I am hard-pressed to remember any time when all the Newton fields were so consistently bad. (At some point in the 1990s, the soccer leagues and the City collaborated on a multi-hundred thousand dollar rebuild of the fields across the entire Weeks Park–replacing soil all the way to the sub-soil, installing irrigation, maintaining the new grass: That investment has now wasted away.)

The city has over 40 acres of soccer fields alone. My buddy JT Traxler, president of NGS, notes that the industry standard for proper field maintenance is $5,000 to $10,000 per acre per year, so we should be spending $200 to $400 thousand per year just for these “multi-use” fields. This doesn’t include ANY dedicated baseball fields or elementary school fields. All draw funds from the same budget line.

In her May 23, 2019 budget message to the City Council, the Mayor noted:

Total contractual spending on turf management has been in the $60,000-$95,000 range over the past three years using the 52409A “Athletic Field Maintenance” account plus some funds from the much larger 52409 “Public Property R-M” account as well. While the majority of larger account #52409 is utilized for grass cutting and ongoing maintenance, we have been able to use some of this line item for turf management and field renovations. With the Administration’s proposed $45,000 increase for FY2020 to 52409A, the investment in turf management will grow further. The Administration hopes to continue increasing this account in the FY2021 budget as well.

The extra $45,000 added to the Athletic Field Maintenance account will help allow the multi-pronged approach to move forward with a graduated approach to improving our athletic fields at a pace that allows for continuation of athletic programs.

While those of us concerned with the fields truly appreciate this action by Mayor Fuller, the amount of current funding remains insufficient, and the prognosis for future funding is unsure given the City’s other obligations. It’s time for a dedicated revenue source, and I would propose that it should come from the teams themselves.  JT has informed me that most every other city and town in our region charges $10 to $30 per player per season. If Newton charged the leagues $25 per player it would raise about $150,000 per year. That would more than double the budget.

Let’s put this idea on the agenda for the City Council and the Mayor.