It may seem like only yesterday that two of the five Sprague Fields were converted from grass to synthetic, but a decade flies by when kids are having fun playing sports. Now the heavily used fields, originally constructed in June – October 2008, are due for maintenance to the tune of $1 million.
The synthetic fields are referred to as Sprague 2 and 3, and are located between Sprague Elementary School and Wellesley Middle School. The fields are part of a playing field complex that is used for school sports and Recreation Department permitted events including football, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, baseball, and tennis.
In fair condition
In September 2017 a Civil Field Report of the fields’ condition commissioned by the Town was conducted by Gale Engineering. The report noted that the existing field carpet is in fair condition and showing signs of wear and recommended that it be replaced. Specifically, in many areas the turf fibers are matted, and in some areas the thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) and sand infill is starting to become visible. Although the turf fibers are not excessively degraded (for example, when rubbed by hand they don’t break easily or come loose), there is significant wear in high-impact areas. The Town expects the project will include replacing the turf, reinstalling the TPE and sand infill, and repainting the lines, hopefully with minimal disruption to field use and the surrounding area.
It is most likely that the Town will stick with using TPE, the same fill material as was used during the 2008 construction of the project. The Town’s representative for the project, Town Engineer David Hickey, says, “Our preference for TPE is based on three things, first the research that was done with our first project, pointing us to TPE, and which is still relevant, next the user feedback which has been very favorable and lastly the potential to reclaim/reuse some material.”
Another popular material used for synthetic field fill is loose tire crumb, however questions have been raised by the public about that material’s possible association with various health and environmental hazards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that limited studies have not shown elevated health risks from playing on fields with tire crumb. Still, the EPA is concerned enough about potential hazards to have committed, along with the Centers for Disease Control, to further study the possible effects of tire crumb exposure on human health. The Town has elected to stay away from the material, and there are no fields in Wellesley that are constructed using loose tire crumb.
Athletic Director John Brown said, “We are excited that we will be replacing the turf surfaces at Sprague Field this summer. The complex at Sprague has been great for all of our athletic programs in Town. When we initially built the turf fields with the TPE infill they were the first fields done with this product in the United States. We have found it to be tremendous. Our fields are the very best in the State. Our opponents and officials have all commented what a great surface we have. We have since used the same infill on the Stadium Field. We look forward to the new turf and to be back playing on two brand new surfaces next fall.”
I stopped by both the Sprague Fields and the Wellesley High School Stadium Field, and the difference is definitely noticeable. The WHS field, which was completed in 2016, has none of the fibers-matting issues that are clearly visible at Sprague. In addition, the fill materials at WHS have stayed put, whereas small, gray plastic pellets and yellow threads have surfaced at the Sprague fields (below).
A summer project
The project is expected to start and end during summer 2019 over a period of 8 – 10 weeks.
There are no plans at this time to convert the three grass fields in the Sprague complex to synthetic turf.
Although only the two turf fields will undergo maintenance, Hickey says some of the other areas in the Sprague complex will be impacted for access, material storage and stockpile, “but we are hoping to minimize the impact to adjacent facilities.”
Unlike in 2008, when the Wellesley Community Preservation Committee (CPC) ponied up $1.5 million of the total $4 million cost of the project, none of the estimated $1 million cost of the 2019 project will come from the CPC because maintenance work is not eligible for such funding. However, Hickey says the Town has a turf replacement fund that envisioned the fields’ maintenance needs and that it will be tapped to assist with the cost of the project.
Youth sports programs will also kick in some of the funds, but not in an overt fundraising sort of way. Part of the fees paid with typical permits or user fees goes toward the cost of keeping up the field.
Additional funding is likely to come from a capital project request, meaning borrowing. It is not yet known how that borrowing would be structured.
Putting together an “ask”
The Town put out a Request for Proposals for engineering services for the replacement of synthetic fields at Sprague Field in early 2018, with a deadline of December 21, 2018. All proposals were required to include plans, permits, and construction specifications, along with a fixed price fee for all work contemplated.
According to Town Engineer David Hickey, out of four consultant firms that put in proposals, “Gale Engineering, out of Weymouth, Massachusetts, the original consultant for both the Sprague fields and the more recent High School project, responded with the best proposal.”
There are still steps to go through before the contract is awarded, however. Hickey says, “It will be subject to the typical public procurement bidding process. We need to move pretty quickly, our goals are to have the consultant under contract by the end of January, and then produce the final technical documents by the end of February, so bidding can occur in March, hopefully fitting into a narrow construction summer window.”
The Town’s representative for this engagement will be David Hickey, P.E., Town Engineer, Department of Public Works, Engineering Division. Questions or comments regarding the project may be directed to him at (781) 235-7600, ext. 3310 or [email protected]
Wellesley College turf field also to be replaced
Not to be outdone by the townies, Wellesley College will this summer also replace their turf field and put in new lights. Big-time donors Alice Lehmann Butler, Wellesley College Class of 1953 and her husband, John Butler, Babson College Class of 1952 are kicking in major funds to make it happen, along with others.