I chaired the Wellesley Softball Field Improvement Committee that worked with the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) for the final three years of an 8-year process which was initiated by a fifth-grade girl who wrote a compelling public letter advocating that “girls should have adequate playing fields,” and requesting renovation of Lee and Warren softball fields. The hardest part of this worthwhile effort wasn’t finding volunteers or raising the money; instead, the hardest part was working with the NRC.
The Softball Field committee had received an outpouring of support from Wellesley High School Athletics, School Committee, Select Board, Playing Fields Task Force, Recreation, Wellesley Little League, Community Preservation Committee, Department of Public Works (DPW), and residents before bringing our renovation request to the NRC. We presented an initial design, budget, and fundraising plans that integrated our supporting Town committees’ combined expertise and input. The NRC asked us for basic drawings, which we provided. After interviewing four firms, we chose the highly-respected and qualified Gale Associates, Inc., for the draft drawings. Gale had produced successful work for the Town of Wellesley, most recently designing the WHS stadium, and had extensive experience designing softball fields, including those in two colleges and three towns in our surrounding area.
Gale Associates carefully studied Wellesley’s options for locating new fields for the girls and concluded the field’s current location was the best. Gale’s work corroborated the findings of a consultant study funded by the Playing Fields Task Force just a few years earlier. The next duty became finding optimal ways to achieve a “regulation size” field in the Lee location that was safe and user-friendly. A particular challenge for field size was the home run fence needing to be a few feet longer. We proposed providing the extra length by moving 5-7 hemlock trees and replanting them closer to the neighboring residents. For safety, two tall pine trees next to first base line had become hazardous due to foul balls ricocheting off the trunks and branches into any direction, so we asked these trees to be removed to prevent physical harm to players and spectators. And to enhance user-friendliness, we requested improved field drainage and covered dugouts with storage.
Providing this background has become necessary given the NRC’s differing version of history at their recent Feb. 3rd remote meeting. The NRC misrepresented the Softball Committee’s initial design by saying our plans called for removing more than 100 trees instead of the actual few. This hurtful distortion dishonors the care and attention taken by Gale Associates and the Softball Improvement Committee toward the surrounding environment. Our Committee had even added $30,000 in funds toward adding better-suited, mature trees in more advantageous positions, working from a planting list provided by the Town Arborist. This Town Arborist also stated that the 5-7 hemlocks requiring movement were of a species that would die eventually, and so was happy for us to replace those hemlocks with a new species. This collaborative effort between the Softball Committee and the Town Arborist was positive and fruitful, vastly unlike the negative description painted in the NRC meeting.
The NRC portrayed another distortion of the process to achieve the final field design. The NRC described passing the project to other Town departments and “bringing on another landscape architect” (not Gale Assoc.). Yet, the records show that the NRC required that softball funds which had been raised for field construction be spent on a fourth field placement study whose outcome was the same as the previous three studies made by Gale Associates, the Playing Fields Task Force and a Town-hired consultant that Playing Fields Task Force hired a few years earlier. Instead of finding a brand new solution, the NRC forced the spending of some of the funds designated for the Softball Fields on a redundant study, generating significant time delays and fiscal waste.
Another difficulty in working with the NRC was their lack of knowledge and unwillingness to appreciate the needs of softball and playing fields. The records show the NRC wanted to violate basic conditions of the sport—like a suggestion of placing opposing team dugouts right next to each other on the third base side thereby increasing the danger of foul balls along the first base, line in order to retain two hazardous pine trees. It was an uphill battle with the NRC to get a Softball Committee representative on the design and construction oversight committee, and the NRC resisted hearing from those knowledgeable about sport.
The softball community worked hard to provide our girls with what we thought would be a treasure for generations. It was an arduous process, and interacting with the NRC left many of our volunteers feeling let down over how our town representatives treated us. And now, having watched minutes of the recent NRC meeting, I must honor my fellow volunteers by correcting the NRC’s disparagingly inaccurate claims.
It is time to elect Lisa Collins to the Natural Resource Committee. The NRC needs to have integrity, work well with other Town committees and the general public they serve, and be more fiscally prudent. Lisa will help to improve these areas of the current NRC Board. By electing Lisa, we will be providing a board member who has active field experience, and is a steward for doing the right thing for the environment and the health of our Town.