Efforts to bring the Hunnewell track & field upgrades to fruition made significant progress over the summer, with proponents winding through a gauntlet of Wellesley Wetlands Protection Committee hearings and then being pleasantly surprised that they would not have to go through a Zoning Board of Appeals process for amending site plan approval and getting a special permit for lighting. However, not unexpectedly, the project has gotten pricier the longer its approval process has gone on.
School Committee member Linda Chow and Wellesley Town Engineer David Hickey shared updates with the School Committee on Sept. 5 (see Wellesley Media recording) and the Natural Resources Commission on Sept. 7 (see recording) as the new school year got underway. If all goes according to plan, construction on the lights/sound system and bathrooms/concession structures could take place over the winter for the sexy-sounding “Hunnewell Track & Field Phase II-A.”
The lights/sound and bathrooms/concession stand have been bundled into 1 phase, as of the start of the year, to try to minimize disruption of the area, while the planned team rooms have been designated for a later Phase II-B and will need to go through their own design and permitting process.
The School Committee had last been briefed on the project near the start of June, so there was plenty to catch up on 3 months later as the design and permitting process proceeded. This included the Wetlands Protection Committee voting in mid-July to amend an order of conditions for the property from 2022 to allow the light and sound system in addition to the previously approved bathrooms and concessions structures. As for the bathrooms and concession structures, each will be 21 x 26 feet in size. One structure will feature 3 gender-neutral bathroom stalls plus the concession stand, the other just bathrooms, with 6 toilets and 4 urinals—at 1 point early in the planning process, some 29 stalls were envisioned. The former will get used regularly, the latter only for major events.
Among the highlights of the Wetlands amendment to the order of conditions are conducting pre- and post-construction baseline measures of habitat and ambient lighting to make comparisons against later on, and tracking that lighting usage doesn’t exceed an agreed-upon limit of 100 hours per year. Proponents went through the Wetlands process following Design Review Board sessions earlier in the year.
The permitting process hasn’t come cheap, with engineering firms, lawyers, and other consultants all hitting paydirt. Chow said the accrued and expected expenses here will total more than $62K, which is covered by the private fundraising efforts of the Wellesley Field Fund.
Remaining costs are estimated at nearly $1.1M, which would include the actual bathroom and bathroom/concessions stand structures, lighting, and sound systems, plus installation. This would be after applying more than half a million dollars appropriated by Town Meeting in 2018. ($635K more is estimated to be required to pay for team rooms in Phase II-B, though that figure is from last year, so needs to be updated.)
“There has been some pretty significant cost escalation,” Chow told the NRC.
Costs presented by the School Committee and Department of Public Works
During her update on home turf at the School Committee, Chow said: “We’ve had a conversation with members from the Field Fund, and they’ve raised a substantial amount already.” She added that Field Fund monies plus in-kind services and contributions from youth sports leagues should all cover the $1.1M in time for the town to put the project out for bids.
According to the Field Fund, they’re collecting pledges to cross the $1M mark and are seeking additional pledges and support for Phase II-A and B. The Fund has received contributions from about 800 donors.
“Our immediate goal is to raise enough to close any existing gaps in support so that WPS/DPW can order and install as much of the project as possible (including lights) for use in Spring 2024,” according to email received from the campaign organizers.
Under a best case scenario, the town would seek bids this fall and get building permits. It could be installing the light and sound system over the winter, along with foundations for the bathrooms/concession stand, with completion of the bathrooms over the summer. There were few questions about the update from the School Committee.
In the meantime, before bids go out this fall (as hoped by proponents), the NRC would need to approve the final plan. Though by the time Chow and Hickey appeared at the NRC meeting on Sept. 7, they acknowledged no decision would be made that night. The School Committee last summer eked out a 3-2 change-of-use approval by the NRC for its track and field lighting proposal.
Chow and Hickey shared similar information with the NRC as they did with the School Committee, though added details on more NRC-ish topics, such as the removal and addition of trees, and plans to start debriefings with neighbors and other members of the public as soon as the end of this fall sports season to get a real sense of the latest issues that arise around track and field use. They also shared a rendering of where the light poles will stand outside the track around the 10-15-yard area of the playing field, and explained plans for a more distributed yet focused sound system that Hickey said should improve quality and limit the distance sound travels.
Let There Be Write: Please support your local news source.