2/24/22: Editor’s note: The letter writer has issued the following clarification regarding an earlier letter by the writer published Feb. 21, 2022. That original letter is published below the clarification.
To the editor:
In a recent letter regarding the discussion of lights at the high school track and field, I made the statement, “Lights for the high school field have been talked about for a long time—but an actual project proposal, the only one that has ever been brought forward as far as I know, has been in front of the NRC for about three months.” I have received some strong pushback on that from the co-chairs of the Lighting Subcommittee of the Playing Fields Task Force who spent a great deal of time putting together a report on the topic of lights, at the request of the NRC.
That report was presented to the NRC in November of 2019 and to the School Committee in December of 2019. In my statement, I did not mean any disrespect to the lighting subcommittee or the work they conducted. In my mind, based on my experience with the way projects progress through the Town’s process, this was a report, not a project proposal ready to be taken up and voted on. I should have been more precise in the language I chose to use in my letter. The project proposal before the NRC, I believe, is the first actual project proposal developed enough to be brought forward for a vote.
That 2019 subcommittee report was discussed and the NRC felt there were some more actions to be taken to move forward. As the Chair of the CPC in early 2020, I had conversations with the subcommittee members about the possibility of CPA funds being used for lighting projects, both a potential retrofit of existing lights and installation of new ones at the high school field. In our conversations, we discussed the town process for projects and the steps that would need to be taken for a high school field lights project, including the need to involve neighbors and abutters in what would be a difficult process. I did not view the 2019 subcommittee report as a project proposal that was “fully baked” as town projects that are ready to be voted on are described.
Since then, additional steps have been taken and the School Committee has now taken the lead. The School Committee voted in the fall of 2021 to bring forward a project proposal for lights on the high school track and field. That proposal was presented to the NRC in November 2021 and is the project proposal that has been taken up to be voted on. This is what I was referring to.
I apologize if my statement has caused some confusion. If I am going to complain as I have about the misinformation and distortion being circulated regarding the NRC, athletic fields and actions taken or not taken, the last thing I want to do is make statements that are confusing or viewed as disrespectful to town volunteers.
I have watched, listened and read closely a great deal of information regarding the proposal for lights at the high school track and field. I feel compelled to speak because some of what I continue to see and hear is so disappointing—and not true.
I have been involved in Wellesley’s Town Government for almost thirty years and have sat on many committees and task forces, a number of which have dealt with parkland and active playing fields. In my experience, the Natural Resources Commission has been cooperative, collegial and willing to problem solve. While I may not have always agreed with what was proposed or how we were asked to proceed, whatever the project—it was always a better project as a result of taking time and looking at it from all perspectives.
Lights for the high school field have been talked about for a long time—but an actual project proposal, the only one that has ever been brought forward as far as I know, has been in front of the NRC for about three months. Anyone who is familiar at all with how Town government works knows that 3 months is no time at all. And there has been no lack of public discourse on the subject.
In the last several years, the Town has spent millions of dollars on playing field improvements. The NRC has been involved and has supported all of these projects. The NRC has not deliberately stalled projects and is as anxious as the rest of us to have team rooms and bathrooms installed, as was approved by the NRC and funded by Town Meeting a few years ago. To say this project is held up because of the NRC is a gross misrepresentation. And the facts on this are not hard to find.
As for the proposed lights, I would venture to say that there is a very good reason there are not lights on this field already. There has always been support on the part of some folks in town—and especially some high school athletes—for lights there, and it was always understood that there were neighborhoods around the field who would not support lights. The NRC should be applauded for taking on this debate. It is sad that it has been distorted by false accusations and veiled personal attacks.
Wellesley as a community, in my experience, has great respect for neighborhoods impacted by projects. The School Department may know this better than any—look at conditions created around some of our school buildings that are not desirable or convenient to many due to concessions made to neighbors. There are considerable restrictions on the Sprague fields, which are controlled by the schools, because of neighborhood concerns—and there was no push to light those fields. Projects proposed by other Town departments over the years also responded to neighbor concerns. The restrictions on the Warren building and the decision to leave the police station in its current location come to mind—and there are others. Wellesley respects its neighborhoods.
When the track and field renovation was planned, neighbors participated in the development of the plan every step of the way and ultimately endorsed it. Yes, these folks all live in homes near actively used playing fields and athletic courts. Noise, traffic and inconveniences are part of the package. With the renovation of the field, all of those things have increased as the ability to use the turf field has increased. Putting lights on the field is something completely new and will exacerbate all these issues—and at a whole new time of day.
We have been told that this light project is “needed.” I am trying to understand how the proposal before the NRC solves what I understand to be the actual the need—rectangular athletic playing fields. I cannot see how permanent lights on this one field, used 30 nights a year, will fill this need—or solve a problem of regular field access for middle school students, as I have seen suggested. Could this be a first step to more frequent and regular use of these lights as neighbors fear? Shouldn’t the time, energy and money being spent on this be directed at the real need for fields in town? And who knows—with some planning and creative thinking, there could be better place for a field with lights that actually fulfills a need and solves a real problem.
If the goal of this project is to provide a few nights of interscholastic games because it will be a fun activity for the community, why is the proposal to rent lights for a couple of weeks not a viable solution? I have heard that this does not satisfy the athletic department’s needs. Do lights on 30 nights a year fill that need?
The NRC will be undertaking a field use optimization study, if Town Meeting approves the use of CPA funds for this project. I am hopeful a lot of helpful information will come from that.
I urge the NRC to reject the proposal before them. Let’s work on solving what I believe is the real need in town. And if the schools are serious about having night games in order to build community and give students a new outlet for social interaction, then let’s work out a plan and schedule for renting lights that the neighbors and concerned citizens can agree to. Let’s be honest in our information sharing and discussions. That’s the kind of community cooperation and compromise we should be working towards. And that is what we should be demonstrating to Wellesley’s students and athletes.
(I submit this letter as a citizen of Wellesley and not as a member of any committees or working groups. Opinions expressed are my own.)