LONGMEADOW, MA – Residents took their first step toward a major renovation of the Wolf Swamp Fields Complex at the Annual Town Meeting on May 14, passing an article crucial to the advancement of the project.
Voters will now be asked to vote for or against a debt exclusion for the project during the Annual Town Election on June 11. The single-phase project would aim to improve safety for residents and visitors by addressing issues with pedestrians, traffic flow and parking as well as reducing injury risks for those using the fields by creating better playing surfaces. The plan calls for reconfiguring both field and parking layouts at the site.
The reconstruction of the complex would require borrowing an estimated $1.54 million. The majority of that funding would be used for improving parking near Wolf Swamp Road and creating a new central parking lot at the facility. Resurfacing the fields and installing a new irrigation system are also major components.
The project would result in a shortage of field space during the estimated two-year renovation. Park and Recreation Director Bari Jarvis said she has been speaking with the various sports associations for some time regarding that scenario, but also pointed out that it is those organizations’ responsibility to make arrangements.
Town Meeting had previously approved small but not insignificant amounts of funding for the project through the Community Preservation Act in 2017 and 2018. A total of $330,000 had been appropriated with 222,500 remaining after some of those monies were utilized for survey and design work.
The Wolf Swamp Field Complex is the most extensively used recreational facility at the town’s disposal with more than 2,000 participants utilizing the fields annually for organized activities including field hockey, soccer, baseball and lacrosse, as well as other programming and general use by the public.
“I’ve heard the statement that recreational fields aren’t really a need,” Town Manager Stephen Crane said in a presentation of the plan. “I disagree with that. I think a healthy set of amenities for recreation and open space benefit every household in this community. It is a part of the quality of life matrix that is so important to Longmeadow that in fact sustains all of our house values.”
Proponents for the project speaking at Town Meeting cited the dangerous conditions of the fields which have not only caused serious injuries to children and adults alike but also may have convinced organizations that would have once paid to rent the fields to look elsewhere. Field conditions were also criticized as unplayable for sports such as field hockey. The use of artesian wells in the plans was also praised.
Opponents criticized the removal of baseball diamonds from the complex as part of the plan, claiming the field availability would deteriorate the Little League programs. A motion to amend the project plans to preserve two baseball diamonds was approved before the overall project was given the nod by voters. Concerns about the removal of a parking lot that provided access to conservation land were also raised.
The Finance Committee did not recommend the project and Chair Paul Santaniello explained that was in part due to concerns about taking on more debt while still paying down debt for projects such as the Adult Center. He added the committee felt the incremental steps being taken to preserve the fields was adequate and an additional $60,000 a year not currently budgeted would be required to maintain the new fields. He said the committee had no concerns with the validity of the project.
The town also voted to approve new zoning bylaws that would create restrictions on natural gas utilities in town. Presenters explained the plans to build a metering station facility on the property of Longmeadow Country Club in proximity to homes and schools and the town’s previous lack of ability to place restrictions under its bylaws prompted the group’s creation of the zoning bylaws.
The bylaw allows the town to conduct reviews on potential health threats and impacts and require facility operators to continuously monitor for pollutants and report on the findings. It also requires any company operating in the town to present contingencies for issues such as gas leakage, spills and water contamination, and compels companies to identify and outline any structures and areas that may be impacted by explosions. Noise ordinances are also included.
Bruce Colton of the Planning Board said the article was unanimously recommended by the board. He went on to say that the town’s bylaws normally don’t allow for an industrial facility in Longmeadow’s residential zones, but a clause allows for public utilities in the residential area proposed. He also noted that the outdated site and design regulations did not give the town the necessary tools to regulate and monitor this type of facility.
A number of residents also spoke in favor of the article, citing concerns with released gases and radioactive elements that can cause numerous health issues. Other issues of concern were the possibility of evacuation or even explosions due to gas leaks. Residents also alluded to a lack of faith in Columbia Gas to properly maintain their facility.