WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Members of the town's Finance Committee last month added their voices to those advising that the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee think twice before proceeding with a plan to install an artificial turf sports field.
Citing long-term impacts on the district's finances and relations between member towns Lanesborough and Williamstown, the six members at an Oct. 24 meeting authorized Chairman Stephen Sheppard to express their concerns to the School Committee, which for months has been getting an earful from proponents and opponents of the artificial turf field.
Much — but not all — of the opposition to date has centered on the potential adverse impact to the environment and students' health.
The Fin Comm discussion did not touch on those arguments, instead sticking to reasons the field may or may not make sense from a financial standpoint.
Longtime committee member Elaine Neely raised the issue at the end of a meeting mostly dedicated to reorganizing the committee and approving a couple of technical moves sought by the town manager.
Neely recalled the difficulties that Mount Greylock occasionally has had gaining the approval of Lanesborough town officials for the middle-high school's budget. And she said the School Committee would do well to heed the letter of opposition sent by Lanesborough Board of Selectmen in August.
"I just think it's a slap in the face to Lanesborough," Neely said of potentially going forward with a synthetic turf field. "They were worried we were going to build a Taj Mahal high school up here, and they were assured that we weren't in order to get their vote [on the Mount Greylock building project].
"I think we're violating that commitment."
Paula Consolini agreed.
"There is a lot at stake in terms of trying to do these projects in the future and budget approvals when these things have to be approved going forward," she said. "The low trust will make it more difficult."
Neely noted that while the installation of a turf field is being funded out of a $5 million capital gift from Williams College, maintenance and upkeep of the turf field would ultimately fall on the district's appropriated budget, voted by each town at town meeting in the spring each year.
"They're talking about replacing it in nine to 10 years for a million dollars," Neely said in a meeting telecast by the town's community access television station, Willinet.
"If you get a year with a line item of their health insurance where there is a 10 to 12 percent increase and add the cost of replacing this field, you're going to be laying off teachers."
Elisabeth Goodman noted that the artificial turf field is being considered to address a legitimate concern: the lack of playable fields in periods of heavy rain or during the spring thaw. But she said she had heard that an alternative would be to make a significant investment in redoing the drainage for natural grass playing surfaces at Mount Greylock.
"And that's a one-shot thing," Consolini said. "People will want to see: Have you done your due diligence? Even though this [Williams College gift] money came without strings, it still encumbers the communities in terms of financial responsibility.
"Drainage might seem more expensive now, but it may be a better investment long term."
The Finance Committee did not take a formal vote on the issue, but the members in attendance agreed without objection that Sheppard should express their concerns to the School Committee, which subsequently placed an item on the agenda for its Tuesday noon meeting to discuss the Fin Comm's input.
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