NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – In a secret ballot vote, a proposal to install artificial turf at Lasell Field was approved last night at the Spring Annual Town Meeting. The vote was 127 for, 92 against. The proposal now goes before voters in the Tuesday, May 15 Annual Town Election as a one-year capital outlay expenditure exclusion under Proposition 2 1/2.
The $900,000 proposal was brought before the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee two months ago by Friends of Lasell Field, a non-profit group formed three years ago.
Brian Burke, Friends of Lasell Field president, explained in a power point presentation that the historic field named in honor of John Whitin Lasell, was once used just for high school football. Today, it is used by high school and middle school teams for sports that include football, soccer, field hockey, and lacrosse, as well as by private groups like Pop Warner football.
It is the only field in town with parking, restrooms and a concession stand. Its constant use has stressed the field. “Some would rather we wait for better financial times,’’ he said. “There never seems to be a good time, and there never will be, to spend tax dollars,’’ he said.
Selectman James Marzec and Finance Committee member Christopher Thompson were among town officials speaking in favor of the proposal.
“It cannot hold up to the increased demands put upon it,’’ Marzec said. “It sees too much use and no amount of maintenance can fix it.’’ Artificial turf, he noted, will allow the field to be used to its full potential and it can be done this year without affecting the tax rate.
It is a unique opportunity,’’ Thompson said. The debt on the 10-year-old high school was paid off early, and a couple of other debts were paid this year as well, reducing the average tax bill by $482.d
The $900,000 will cost homeowners $200 for one year, and even with repairs to Memorial Town Hall and a five-year road maintenance program also approved by voters last night, taxpayers will see a slight reduction in their tax bills, Thompson said.
The Finance Committee was split on the Lasell Field proposal. “It wasn’t whether it should be done, but when,’’ he said. The three members, the majority voting in support, felt this was the time, he said.
FinCom member Plato Adams spoke against the proposal, arguing that other fields in town could be used, giving Lasell Field a chance to rest, that the town had other more pressing needs, and that it favored a special interest group rather than the whole of the town.
Selectman Chairman Thomas Melia said a majority of his board voted in favor of the project. “We feel it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to initiate and complete three major projects and still give taxpayers a break in taxes.’’
Shelly Buma asked for a secret ballot vote and School Committee member Randeen Zanca requested, after more than an hour of discussion, that the question be moved and debate stopped, both requests supported by meeting participants.
Voters also approved $630,000 for repair and renovation of Memorial Town Hall and $625,000 for the five-year road maintenance program. Like the Lasell Field proposal, they are capital exclusion requests that must go before voters at the May 15 Town Election.