WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School District is still waiting for proposal from its architect to design new athletic fields, more than a month after the School Committee authorized the administration to move forward on obtaining those designs.
But while the committee was not able to take any action on the project at its Thursday meeting, it did hear from critics of the plan to install a synthetic turf multisport field at the middle/high school.
District Business Administrator Joe Bergeron on Thursday reported that architect Perkins Eastman did not provide a proposal for its design services in time for the School Committee to consider awarding the contract on Thursday night.
"Which is a little frustrating because it's been weeks in the making," Bergeron told the panel. "That is all the update I have right now.
"We're trying as hard as we can within the district to move the process forward."
In the past, Bergeron has told the committee that it would be optimal to get the project out to bid this fall in order to hit contractors' cycles at an optimal time and, in theory, install the new field in 2022.
But the district needs new bid documents, and the School Committee in September tasked the administration with getting an agreement from Boston architect Perkins Eastman to draw up those documents.
The School Committee has long planned to pay for a new field with proceeds from a $5 million capital gift the middle/high school received from Williams College in 2016, at the outset of a building project at Mount Greylock.
This week, the School Committee learned that the value of that gift, as of June 2021, was $4.7 million.
That takes into account $2.1 million in growth in fiscal 2021 and $3.1 million spent or committed to be spent since July 1, 2020.
The cost of a "fields project" that included the turf field and needed improvements to the existing field twice came in over a number that the School Committee felt comfortable paying. That led the committee earlier this year to break the Title IX and Americans with Disabilities Act improvements apart from the turf field; the ADA and Title IX work currently is underway and on target to be completed by an April 2022 deadline from the commonwealth's Architectural Access Board.
The artificial turf field, meanwhile, continues to draw criticism from some members of the community.
Three long-standing critics, Anne O'Connor, Susan Abrams and Stephanie Boyd, addressed the School Committee at the start of Thursday's meeting to express their dismay over the September vote.
"Children in the world are dying from the effects of the climate crisis, and you're telling our children what they need is a big plastic field," said O'Connor, who told the committee she was "mad" over the move to advance the synthetic turf field forward.
Abrams pointed to recent research supporting the notion that artificial fields can contribute to orthopedic injuries and concussions
She also said that, as the parent of former athletes at the middle/high school, she never saw evidence that the inadequacy of the school's natural grass fields prevented kids from being involved in sports.
And, like O'Connor, she attempted to put the School Committee's September vote into an environmental context.
"I want to remind the committee that this community, Williamstown, made a commitment [at 2021's annual town meeting] to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which means we have to take that into consideration in all our projects going forward," Abrams said.
"Artificial turf fields do make a significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. A grass field sequesters carbon — even with the mowing and other care, there is a net reduction in carbon emissions."
Boyd emphasized the argument that artificial turf fields are not recyclable and not likely to be recyclable given how much cheaper it is to produce new synthetic field materials. And, along with Abrams, Boyd talked about the presence of polyfluoroalkyl, or PFAS, substances in the materials used in artificial turf fields.
"Even if it doesn't contaminate the site at Mount Greylock, which it might do, there is pollution at the site where it's manufactured, and we'd be contributing to that," Boyd said. "There's no way we can ask for a field that doesn't include PFAS. It's how they're manufactured."
No School Committee members addressed the comments against the turf field or discussed the synthetic turf field project at all once Bergeron informed the panel that there was no proposal to consider from the architect.
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