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Letter: Building On Cricket Is A Bad Idea

This letter was submitted by a Needham resident.

I'm writing to let you know about an issue that I found out about six weeks ago: the potential loss of the beautiful green space of .

This is a project that would impact all of Needham. The Needham School Committee has determined that if the can't be rebuilt in its current location (because of access and environmental issues), then Cricket Field would be the best and most cost-effective spot to put the new school.

I am so upset about this I can hardly sleep at night.

The School Committee quietly pushed a pre-feasibility study through the initial vetting process along with Needham's Permanent Public Building Committee; they never asked for the input of the Park and Rec Department (Cricket is under the jurisdiction of Park and Rec, so the field would have to be wrested away from Park and Rec through a townwide vote), they never studied the impact to the neighborhood, (which is densely populated and on a major bus route), and they have convinced some of the Hillside community parents that if a new Hillside is built on Cricket they will be able to move there as a group and 'minimal redistricting' will occur. This solution is so crazy it just might happen. Nevermind that the district (where Cricket is located) already has an elementary school half a mile away.

Because this process has begun, it must go through Town Meeting and a townwide vote, even though four out of five selectmen do not support building Hillside on Cricket and even though they do not think the town would support this outcome and the $40-50 million override that this project would require. So that means we, as a town, must come out in large numbers and oppose tearing down this historic park in order to put a 95-car parking lot, and a 480-student school on this beautiful green space.

Sue Owen
Hillside Avenue

 

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Doug Fox July 24, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Town has only so much buildable space, so if they can't build at the Hillside location, Cricket is one of the few options close by. Obviously we'd have to replace the field space, and the Hillside location would do part of that. And it's a lot easier to find space for parks than space for schools. It's wrong to eliminate Cricket as an option until it is compared with the other options. Would I be thrilled if it was happening in my own backyard? Of course not. But this is about what is best for the entire town, not the few blocks surrounding cricket field.
Susan Owen July 24, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Cricket Field is important for the town too and protecting our green space should be a priority. It is not just the few blocks that surround the field that would be impacted, a second elementary school in this densely populated district would change the neighborhood irrevocably and from a safety standpoint would be a terrible place for a school.
Rachel Miller July 24, 2012 at 07:57 PM
What's best for the town is not to build two elementary schools .5 miles away from each other. If you're truly thinking what's best for the whole town, why not consider returning an elementary school to the High Rock district? If you look at a map of Needham, that makes much more sense.
Liz Lee July 24, 2012 at 08:23 PM
If this were my neighborhood, I'd be thinking deeply about it too. That said, I'd like to respectfully clarify a few points. 1. This study is only the PRE-feasibility study. If the state agrees to work with the town, it all goes back to the drawing board. In-depth information about traffic and safety issues are considered in the FEASIBILITY study and not in the PRE-feasibility study. That is why you haven't seen this information. 2. The school committee did not "push through" this study. The Permanent Public Building Committee identifies *possible* building sites as part of every new public building project. This procedure unfolded just as it has for the Senior Center, and other elementary schools. I understand you are concerned but I want to reiterate how early we are in this process. As you point out, there are many obstacles to using Cricket and there are many obstacles to using Hillside. It's not an easy situation to solve. Let's focus on whether or not we *can* build at Hillside. Then we can see if the state will even work with us. If the state will work with Needham, and the feasibility study gets underway, the town can consider whether looking at Cricket is even necessary. Thanks so much...
Liz Lee July 24, 2012 at 08:24 PM
One last thought... Green space - We are years away from the point at which the town makes a decision regarding Hillside. But, if at that point, Cricket and Hillside switch (as was a possible solution in the pre-feasibility study), I believe the town will actually gain green space. The Hillside lot is larger than Cricket. That space is challenging to build on, but easy (or perhaps easier?) to have a park on.
Darlene DioDato July 24, 2012 at 09:25 PM
When considering what it is best for the entire Needham community, we need to be mindful of all the townspeople who use Cricket field; from the Girls Soccer and Lacrosse teams to the small children who participate in the summer Cricketeers program, to the many families and children who use the playground, to the community youth sports groups who use the field on week nights and weekends. The Needham Park and Recreation Commission has made it very clear that there is no other space in Needham that can support all these uses, so the loss of this space would most definitely Not be in the town's best interest.
Joanna Herrera July 25, 2012 at 11:17 AM
I agree. I feel for the author, but I think she speaks from emotion and not reason. This is a town-wide issue and it is truly about educational equity. The Cricket Field neighbors enjoy a brand new school: Eliot, while Hillside families do not. We deserve better. It seems that the author is fearful and concerned about what would happen to her quiet community were a elementary school to be built there. And this is valid. But as Liz Lee comments below, before any of this would happen, and full feasibility study would be conducted which would study traffic, noise, etc. and how it would impact the community. It is simply too early in the process to eliminate Cricket field as an option for Hillside school. Green space is also not a valid argument: Hillside would swap with Cricket if a school were built there, and Hillside would become an even bigger field with more green space for the town and its sports teams to enjoy. Let's think about this rationally, keeping the children of Needham and the entire town, not one select neighborhood, in mind.
Catherine Kurkjian July 25, 2012 at 01:22 PM
In response to the above clarifications, I have the following questions: 1. Architects have provided options and cost estimates for building a school at Hillside. Why then do we need to focus "on whether or not we can build at Hillside"? 2. MSBA has deemed Hillside School to be overcrowded and in need of repair. Why then would we be thinking that the State would not work with us? 3. In regard to the Senior Center, it was relocated to a less desirable location (with a traffic intersection that is cause for concern) to save Greene's Field. Looking at the size of the foundation, it appears that the building would have taken up a fraction of the space at that field. Why is Cricket Field not being deemed as having the same preservation value as Greene's Field? I understand the need to study all the available options but how much more money is our town willing to expend for the School Committee to study an option that may not even be necessary; but of greater concern, to build a school on land that is not even under their jurisdiction?
Liz Lee July 25, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Dear Catherine, Thank you for such thoughtful questions. I want to start by saying that I'm not an expert. I'll give you my thoughts but please know that I may not have the whole picture. 1. As I understand it, architects have provided *preliminary* plans for Hillside. Detailed plans can only occur after the site has been thoroughly vetted. Hillside has environmental issues (toxic chemicals from a business seeped under the school in the 80s) and this may need to be cleaned up before building. It is also surrounded by wetlands and detailed designs will depend on the regulations guiding construction near conservation land. Finally, if Hillside is "buildable", it might be able to support a large enough school of 450+ kids, but it also may only be able to support a much smaller school, say 250 kids. What then happens to those extra 200 children - do they go to Mitchell, creating a school of 700? Or perhaps 50 are sent to each of the remaining 4 elementary schools? 2. The MSBA process is complicated. My understanding is that the state deems schools to be in need of repair. Then, the school is put on a list of all MA schools, prioritized by need. Hillside and Mitchell, are in the middle of the pack. The town is also planning to "couple" Hillside and Mitchell as one project. I've heard this isn't typically done so whether or not they will accept this "coupling" is also a question. (continued)
Liz Lee July 25, 2012 at 06:24 PM
3. I don't know much about about the Senior Center process but I'm pretty sure the town did NOT remove Greene's Field as an option simply because people protested. Greene's Field remained an option in the study and then was not chosen. If Cricket ends up in the Feasibility study, it may similarly be passed over. Either way, that process happens much later (in the feasibility stage). Lastly, regarding your question about money the town spent for the pre-feasibility study... Again, my feeling here is that the town has to go through this process simply to participate in the MSBA process. Without spending this money, the town can't access those funds. It is a lot of money and a long process, but the end result will be new schools for Mitchell and Hillside, as well as Full Day Kindergarten across the town. I welcome any comments to clarify/correct this information. This is my best understanding of the process at this point.
Catherine Kurkjian July 26, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Dear Liz, thank you for taking the time to respond to my concerns and for sharing your thoughts. The PRE-FEASIBILITY STUDY, Final Report 6 July 2012 provides a plan, diagrams (wet lands and buffer zones designated), and projected costs to build a new school at the Hillside location for 487 students; Option 1A.2b (w/ Mitchell as temp relocation) - $38,416,000 and Option 1A.2b (With modulars)- $46,046,000. A new school at Cricket Field, Option 1A.3: - $39,746,000 In regard to MADEP monitoring at Hillside, the report states: “This existing condition should not be considered a deterrent from using this site for additions to the existing building or for the construction of a new building. However, there are additional site procedures and building systems that are required for construction on a site that has had soil and ground water contamination. The cost factor for these atypical construction methods and additional building systems has been included in the estimated project cost presented in this report." According to the MSBA 2010 Needs Survey Report 29 April 2011, “The MSBA approves new projects through a competitive process that stresses need and urgency, and reimbursement can range from 31% to 80% of eligible project costs.” Hillside has a building condition rating of 3 (1-4 rating) and environment of 2 (1-4 rating), clearly an MSBA high priority project. To submit a combined application for schools with different condition ratings may not be a sound decision.
Liz Lee July 27, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Hi Catherine, That was a smart idea to go back to the actual document and I do see your confusion. I pulled out a few related quotes, also from PRE-FEASIBILITY STUDY, Final Report 6 July 2012, noting report section. (emphasis mine) 1. “These options are intended to provide a framework and basis for the submission of the Statement of Interest (SOI) to the MSBA and are **not to be considered a recommendation of one specific option or solution.**” (executive summary) “Other sites could be considered in future options.” (options and concepts) 2. “These costs are conceptual in nature and are for comparison purposes only; **they are not intended for use in construction**.”(cost estimates) “Assumptions have been made for existing site and building conditions based on information known at the time of this study. **The actual project cost will vary and will be based on a defined scope of work, specifications, testing, site development, and permitting requirements.**” (cost estimates) 3. The “middle of the pack” statement was from the presentation at Eliot on May 2nd. I asked this question specifically and that was the answer given (direct quote). Beyond that, you might want to contact School Committee members and/or Selectmen to get more detailed answers to your questions. Thanks for the thoughtful dialogue. Liz
Catherine Kurkjian July 27, 2012 at 04:21 PM
With all due respect for the diligent work of the School Committee, I think I will continue to be smart and base my opinions on detailed facts rather than rhetoric. I also appreciate the dialogue, and don't want this to sound offensive; but I find it rather disconcerting that I have been deemed as confused because the facts I presented don’t mesh with your understandings. My opinion is that the driving force to build on Cricket Field is to avoid the price tag for costly modulars. It will be most unfortunate if this coveted piece of land is taken from the residents of Needham because decision makers deem that the advantage of swing space for a school renovation outweighs the benefits of preserving this field. This is more than just “green space” and the loss of this space will affect more than just the Cricket Field neighborhood. This is a piece of land that was donated to the people of Needham in 1938. The Park and Recreation Commission has kept the field in pristine condition for the entire town, not just a neighborhood. It should also be emphasized that MSBA does not reimburse for the replacement of fields. Therefore, I question how much money will be requested to fund a “field replacement” study, how long the town will be without fields, what plans have been established to accommodate the youth sport programs while these schools are constructed and demolished at the different locations, and when the field replacement cost will be passed on to tax payers? .
Carolyn Spiros July 27, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Hi Catherine: THANK YOU for your well researched and thoughtful replies. It is reassuring to read comments from a Needham resident (a non Cricket Field abutter/neighbor) who considers what is best for the town and all of its residents, and bases her comments on information from the Pre-Feasibility Study..a document readily available for scrutiny.
Susan Owen July 27, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Thank you Ms. Kurkjian. You comment is exactly right. I would like to add re Ms. Herrera's comment that I speak from emotion as well as reason. Why is it deemed irrational that I want to protect my neighborhood from losing one if its most cherished landmarks but reasonable that you want to protect yours from losing its neighborhood school?
Christine Mawhinney July 27, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Clearly there will be many more discussions, reports and meetings before a decision is made. What we all need to keep in mind at this stage is that options are being vetted out through a process. While it might be difficult for those who live near Cricket Field to imagine it being used for a school, the fact is that it remains an option for a new Hillside. As for building schools that are .5 miles away from one another, that's a reality of living in a densely populated area. If it turns out that Cricket Field is the best option for a new Hillside, then Needham would gain new green space where Hillside currently is. It should not matter where the green space is. What we all need to keep in mind here is the objective of a new school. Our Needham kids deserve to have all the options on the table.
Susan Owen July 27, 2012 at 11:59 PM
The fact that it remains an option is hard to believe. Not only is the land under the jurisdiction of the Park and Recreation department but 4 out of 5 Selectmen are opposed to building on this iconic field. The School Committee will not be able to take jurisdiction from the Park and Rec Dept without their consent... even with their consent the land would have to be classified as surplus. If you have read the letter from Park and Rec to the School Committee (on public record), you will see how much the field is used. It is in no way 'surplus'. For an override to be approved for a referendum 4 out of 5 select men would have to vote to put that before the public, again, 4 out of 5 are opposed to building on Cricket. I would suggest that we put our efforts into finding a solution to the Hillside problem without the distraction of the Cricket option, after all if the town does not vote for an override the construction of a new Hillside will be back at square one.
Christine Mawhinney July 28, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Well, it remains an option, as it should. Our selectmen are letting the process continue, as they should. Nobody is "distracted". While I respect your opinion, I disagree with your prediction.
Jodi Rooney July 28, 2012 at 01:46 AM
I am a Hillside parent and I want my children, just like any parent does, to have the best education possible in the best environment possible. I take offense to the following statement "and they have convinced some of the Hillside community parents that if a new Hillside is built on Cricket they will be able to move there as a group and 'minimal redistricting' will occur." No one has convinced me of anything. I know redistricting will most likely occur minimal or not. I know Crickett Field is not the "best" option for a school (my own children use the space all the time), but it is an option that must be considered along with any others available. We want Hillside to stay at Hillside, just like many others do as well. But if it can't, we need to look at all the options and removing Crickett as such, at such an early stage, is in my opinion, irresponsible. Yes, there are going to be many obstacles ahead, and yes, hopefully a better option will arise out of all this that will make your community and my community much happier. We do appreciate your group looking into other options and hopefully, as a town, we can come together and make the best decision for the town, and most importantly, for our children.
Jodi Rooney July 28, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Susan, you also say, "Why is it deemed irrational that I want to protect my neighborhood from losing one if its most cherished landmarks but reasonable that you want to protect yours from losing its neighborhood school?" We all have to agree that we disagree on this issue. You are passionate about saving Crickett Field and Hillside parents are passionate about giving our community a chance to stay together as much as possible. To us, that means leaving all the options on the table in the pre-feasibility study. I truly appreciate the conversation we have started here and I know it will continue over the next year or two.
Sophia Buckley July 28, 2012 at 02:37 AM
As a parent of a hillside student and three future students, I am following the options presented for a new elementary school closely. I’m enjoying the dialog on this page, as it is filled with informed and intelligent opinions. My own opinion is that I’m happy the School Committee kept this location on the table. I see this process as an unbiased determination of what is best for the community. It is too early to remove options (which are already slim). I’m looking forward to the results of the feasibility study before condemning any one option. In my mind, at this early stage, the more options the better. I’m sure everyone in the town has a favorite based on the preliminary work. Personally, I like the option of opening High Rock as an elementary school and building a new 6th grade on the DeFazio complex. But I also realize that my preference at this time, are based on personal desires and emotion. It’s only in receiving the complete feasibility study that the concrete pros and cons for each option can be evaluated allowing us to make a sound decision on what’s best for the whole community. I know I’m not changing anyone’s mind here, as abutting property owners will always have strong opinions (for or against). While I believe personal feelings of property abutters need to be considered, I agree with the school committee’s finding that it is too early in the process to completely remove an option without vetting the results of the feasibility study.
Rebecca King July 28, 2012 at 04:28 AM
I have just read the string of comments, and my own thoughts have already been expressed by several contributors supporting the need to complete all research before coming to a conclusion one way or the other about re-building Hillside. I join other Hillside parents in hoping Hillside can remain in its current location rather than move elsewhere. However, all possibilities and costs must be weighed during this lengthy, open, and democratic process. It would be premature to remove any option when there are so few to begin with.
Catherine Kurkjian July 28, 2012 at 01:55 PM
The School Committee can continue to convey to the people that building a school on Cricket Field is an option but the reality is that, as of now, it is not. Contained in the 179 page pre-feasibility study, it is clearly stated that “this site is under the jurisdiction of the Park and Recreation Commission (not the Needham School Committee) and would require a multistep process to validate its viability as an option either as temporary swing space or as the location for a new school.” Open space land deeded for recreation is protected by the EEA Article 97 Land Disposition Policy. To comply with this policy, “municipalities that seek to dispose of any Article 97 land must: obtain a unanimous vote of the municipal Conservation Commission that the Article 97 land is surplus to municipal, conservation, and open space needs; obtain a unanimous vote of the municipal Park Commission if the land proposed for disposition is park land; obtain a two-thirds Town Meeting or City Council vote in support of the disposition; obtain two-thirds vote of the legislature in support of the disposition, as required under the state constitution . . . " . ”http://www.env.state.ma.us/mepa/article97policy.aspx I can understand the School Committee’s confidence in their ability to obtain a two-thirds vote of TM, but without concurrence from the Park & Rec (request was filed to withdraw Cricket Field as an option), it would seem unlikely to obtain a two-thirds vote of the legislature.
George D. July 28, 2012 at 04:53 PM
It's disappointing that this has become such a divisive issue in the town. It is not right to point to others' arguments as irrational/emotional - there are legitimate town issues at stake here, and chastising and denigrating others is shameful. The School Committee and PPBC have done the town a significant disservice in the way they went about this. There were no up front discussions with the town, and there was no level-setting with Parks and Rec. They simply came up with options without performing the due diligence necessary to find out if they are feasible, and then they kept them secret for several months. The result of this is that Cricket now truly is a 'distraction'. A critical mass of protest has been achieved, and because of the way this occurred, resistance to Cricket Field as a spot for a school will only continue to grow if the option is not tabled. If it's not tabled, it will likely delay any solution due to legal challenges and votes not passing the Selectmen or the Town. Now that emotions are running high across multiple stakeholder groups, the School Committee has put themselves in a corner. Truly the only 'success' at this point will be keeping Hillside School on the Hillside site - any other outcome will be deemed a failure by significant portions of the town. It's time for the officials to start working toward that end-game and work toward figuring out how to solve for any potential issues with the Hillside site - nothing is insurmountable.
Meri G July 28, 2012 at 09:33 PM
I would like to address commenters and other residents who may think that green space at Cricket could be simply swapped for green space at Hillside. Aside from the memorials at Cricket, and the historic aspect of Cricket, the Hillside site is too wet for a real swap. As the parent of any student athlete knows, games and practices are cancelled when fields are too wet. Damp fields cannot stand up to the repeated assault by kids running in cleats. So, fields are closed to preserve the grass. In wet areas, games and practices are sometimes cancelled days after the last drop of rain has fallen. Poor drainage keeps the wet fields wet. Proximity to wetlands would make any new Hillside fields the wet sort. Any programs relying on those fields would be shortchanged.
Arlene B July 29, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Cricket Field is a valued sports and rec green space that is used by ALL Needhamites - soccer teams, lacross teams, summer camps. We have so little green space in Needham, PLEASE show your support in taking Cricket Field off as an option.
Kelly Morales July 29, 2012 at 05:13 PM
The best option for all (hillside community, cricket neighbors, and sports teams that call cricket home) is to keep hillside on hillside. It is unfortunate that the school committee and PPBC have allowed such a divide in our community. If the sole purpose of the option to move hillside to cricket is to save money on the swing space then the school committee and PPBC have not done us justice in seeking out other creative options. I have a very hard time believing the options presented on the pre-feasibility are the best for our town. It seems that they are looking to short term solutions for a long term problem. For some of you hillside parents that have commented, what if you have a daughter that plays high school soccer some day do you really think they would end up playing on a field at hillside? Probably not, you will wish that you would hav protected cricket field. My thoughts take them as you please, glad to hear the good debate happening.
Van Spiros July 29, 2012 at 10:46 PM
I have read that most if not all of the submitters are in favor of keeping the Hillside School on the present Hillside site as am I. As a former president of the Needham Soccer Club, I am firmly against destroying Cricket Field as a replacement to the Hillside School (not to mention building a 95 car parking lot where the High School girls soccer team plays home games). Also, The notion that a swap of fields to the present Hillside site would be positive is naive as any fields would be wet and unusable for much of the Fall and Spring seasons when soccer and Lacrosse are played. Some of the responders have stated that they believe that the process will arrive at the best solution. Well, I have to say that as a Needham tax payer I am extremely disappointed that the School Committee spent thousands of dollars on the pre feasibility study (179 pages) that has prominently brought Cricket up as an option when they have not approached the MA DEP to understand what is required to merely replace the building in situ! Keeping Cricket on the table is a distraction; in fact it never should have been put on the table in the first place without receiving a reading from the DEP.
Joan Feeney July 30, 2012 at 12:31 AM
I do believe the children of Hillside school deserve a new school. However, not at the town’s expense of a beautiful, historic field in a densely populated neighborhood. Many proponents of building at Cricket have written that the Hillside school site needs remediation. However, the truth is that once the toxin is established, it must be dealt with (remediated) whether the site becomes a field, a school, or a vacant parcel. Also, some proponents say the fields will be replaced. However, the Park and Recreation department has calculated that the minimum net effect will be 80 hours of field use, or 2000 hours of spring/fall use. My suggestion for a solution is that a modular school be built up at the Mitchell school fields. The start and end time will be adjusted, so there will not be traffic jams during Mitchell’s normal start and end time. The Hillside children will use these modular while their school is being constructed. When their school is complete, the Mitchell children will use the modular while their school is being constructed. This suggestion keeps Mitchell at Mitchell, Hillside at Hillside, and Cricket field as a field for the town people of Needham. It's time we all come up with viable solutions!
Rakesh Shukla July 30, 2012 at 03:22 PM
So what is best for the entire town of Needham from a fiscal perspective? I don't think anyone really questions that building a school on Cricket would greatly disrupt the densely populated neighborhoods surrounding Cricket Field. The negative impacts of traffic, noise, and safety would clearly reduce the quality of life for homes near Cricket Field. How many homes would be affected? 50? 100? 200? more? I don't know what the exact number is but it is surely more than just the 25 or so homes that are across or abut the beautiful field. How much will these home values decline if Cricket Field is destroyed? The surrounding neighborhoods will certainly not have the same appeal without Cricket. I know we would not have purchased our home 15 years ago if Cricket Field was not there. So how much property tax revenue would be permanently lost for the entire town of Needham? Maybe the loss is insignificant or maybe it is material -- I don't know. If the loss is significant, how would this lost revenue affect future town budgets for maintenance, improvements and projects that affect all the residents of Needham? Understanding the fiscal impact from a home value/property tax perspective would be good information that is relevant for the entire town of Needham.

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