FAQs

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Flood Mitigation/Culvert

Q.  What is Winchester’s Flood Mitigation Program?

Q.  What are the benefits of the Flood Mitigation Program? Will completion of the FMP eliminate flooding in Winchester entirely?

Q.  What is the Skillings culvert project, and why is it important to do now?

Q.  Flooding in Town seems to have gotten much better in recent years. Haven’t we done enough? Maybe we don’t need to do any more of the projects under the FMP?

Q.  Is the culvert necessary to protect the rebuilt WHS from flood damage? In other words, was it imprudent for the Town to move forward with the WHS renovation without ensuring that the culvert would be constructed?

Q.  Why didn’t the Town include the culvert as part of the WHS override?

Q.  Why is the culvert so expensive?

Q.  If the Skillings culvert is completed, what projects remain in the FMP? How much do they cost, and how will they be funded?

Q.  Is it correct that Winchester has $2.5 million available from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to use toward flooding? Why isn’t that money being used toward the culvert?

Q.  The Flood Mitigation Program was put together so long ago. Aren’t its assumptions about storms and flood levels out of date given what we now know about climate change?

Q.  Why isn’t the Town considering an open channel (“daylighting”) instead of an additional culvert?

Q.  What will happen to the Skillings culvert project if Question 1 does not pass?

Environmental Remediation

Q.  Is it safe for the playing fields to be used right now?

Q.  What will happen to the environmental remediation project if Question 1 does not pass?

Q.  How firm is the November 2019 date?  Couldn’t the town apply for an extension?

Baseball Field with Multisport Outfield

Q.  Why is Question 2 (ball field upgrade) conditional on passage of Question 1 (culvert and environmental remediation)? I’d like to support the playfield upgrade, but don’t want to pay for the other projects.

Q.  What will happen to the baseball field if Question 2 and/or Question 1 do not pass?

Q.  Why is the Board of Selectmen proposing Question 2 even though Town Meeting voted against it?

Q.  Why doesn’t Question 2 include proposed funding for lighting the synthetic field?

Q.  We already have a synthetic turf field at Knowlton Stadium. Why do we need another?

Q.  It seems like we already have a lot of fields in Winchester.  Who is using the fields and why don’t we have enough?

Q.  What would be the expected usage of the proposed field beyond baseball? Would the multi-sport field be able to be used for other sports even during baseball season?  Is it large enough to accommodate regulation play for other sports?

Q.  What would a synthetic turf baseball/multi-sport field look like? Would the pitchers mound, home plate and baselines also be synthetic turf like the outfield or would they be made out of clay?

Q: Will the multi-sport field be interrupted by a “home run fence”?

Q.  I am concerned with the safety of a turf field that uses crumb rubber as an infill.

Q. What is the life expectancy of a synthetic turf field? How much does it cost to replace? I understand that the Finance Committee and some Town Meeting members have expressed concern about funding a project for which we do not have a dedicated source of replacement funds.

Q. What are the maintenance costs of a synthetic turf field vs. a natural grass field?

Q.  I understand that part of the baseball field is in the floodway. What will happen to the synthetic infill if there is a major flood event? Won’t the field fencing get in the way of the floodway?

Q.  Would the proposed upgrade of the athletic field reduce other play field usage at Skillings Field?

Cost and Tax Impact

Q.  What is a “debt exclusion” override?  Once the culvert and remediation are paid for, will my taxes go down?

Q.  What will the projects cost the average Winchester taxpayer per year?

Q.  How can I find out how much this project will cost me as a taxpayer?

Miscellaneous

Q.  Has the School Committee taken a position on the overrides?

Q.  Do any of the questions include funding for a pool at Skillings?

Q.  Would any of the proposed projects at Skillings prevent the possibility of a pool at Skillings Field in the future?

Q. What is the role of the Board of Selectmen and the Town Meeting in proposing and approving these projects?

Flood Mitigation/Culvert

 Q.  What is Winchester’s Flood Mitigation Program?

The Flood Mitigation Program is a series of projects designed to help alleviate the historical flooding that has occurred in the low-lying areas adjacent to the Aberjona River in Winchester.  Flooding caused approximately $25M in property damage between 1996 and 2010, per the US Army Corps of Engineers.  See 2010 FEIR.  The process of designing, permitting and executing this program took years of study and review, with assistance from professional consultants and input from citizens and Town committees.

The Town first filed an ENF (Environmental Notification Form) under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) in 2003 for a series of proposed flood improvement projects. In the subsequent years, the proposal was refined through more filings by the Town and regulatory review by the Commonwealth, with input from a variety of regulatory agencies (such as DCR, the MWRA, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, etc.) and both upstream and downstream communities. In 2010, a Final Environmental Impact Review was submitted, listing nine projects – six within Winchester and three in neighboring communities. Each project within the FMP is critical to the success of the overall program, and some of the projects must be conducted in sequence to ensure that no new flood issues are created as a result of the execution of the projects.  See April 27, 2015 Flood Mitigation Program Update to Town Meeting.

The Skillings culvert is one of the six projects within Winchester.

Q.  What are the benefits of the Flood Mitigation Program? Will completion of the FMP eliminate flooding in Winchester entirely?

When the FMP is complete, the Town will experience lower levels of flooding, at a lesser frequency, from storm events. For low to moderate storm events, some impacts have already been reduced or eliminated. For more extreme flood events (100-year or greater storms), the impact will not be entirely eliminated, but reduced so that less property damage is experienced overall within the Town, particularly in the Town Center and north side of Town. The benefits accrue not only to private property, but to municipal buildings and infrastructure that have historically experienced flooding impacts.

In addition, upon completion of the FMP, the flood plain maps maintained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can be amended to significantly reduce the 100-year floodplain area (which dictates which properties must be covered by flood insurance). The Town estimates that 145 out of 273 buildings, including Muraco School, will be removed from the floodplain. This will save impacted residents an aggregate of approximately $297,598 annually in insurance premiums.

Q.  What is the Skillings culvert project, and why is it important to do now?

Currently, the Aberjona River runs underneath Skillings Field through three 7-foot diameter pipe culverts. The proposed project will install a 7’ x 15’ box culvert – a length of approximately 1300 feet — adjacent to the existing culverts to increase capacity in flood events, as well as create a surface floodway (on the western edge of Skillings Field) for overflow. While this project itself will help reduce the level of floodwaters in storm events, it is also a critical precursor to upstream projects.

The work planned for Skillings as part of Phase 3 of the high school project provides an opportunity for the Town to complete both the culvert and environmental remediation before the parking area is built, as well as upgrade the ball fields.  By coordinating the work for all projects together, the Town will save money compared to the cost of executing each project on an individual basis. Moreover, executing the projects together in Phase 3 will minimize the amount of time during which the playing fields will be unavailable for use.

Q.  Flooding in Town seems to have gotten much better in recent years. Haven’t we done enough? Maybe we don’t need to do any more of the projects under the FMP?

The Town has successfully completed many of the projects in the FMP, and the experience of recent flood events has been that these projects are having a positive impact. However, the Town has not in recent years experienced the type of 100-year storm that was, in part, considered in the design of the program. In addition, because of the required sequencing of some of the projects, certain neighborhoods have yet to experience the benefits that will result from the projects that most directly target flooding in their region of Town. If the Town does not complete the FMP and we experience another “100 year storm,” we are certain to see significant property damage throughout town.

The Town has recent experience from a storm on December 9-10, 2014, which involved 3.26’ of rainfall in 24 hours. In that storm, the positive results of completed flood mitigation projects were observed by those Town employees who are familiar with the historical neighborhood and homeowner impacts of flooding. However, it was also observed that an additional inch of rain would have caused significant additional damage of the type that the Town has not experienced in many years. See December 15, 2014 Presentation from DPW to BOS regarding December 9-10, 2014 Storm.

Q.  Is the culvert necessary to protect the rebuilt WHS from flood damage? In other words, was it imprudent for the Town to move forward with the WHS renovation without ensuring that the culvert would be constructed?

No, although completion of the Town’s flood mitigation program will reduce risks of extreme floods (100-year plus storms) all along Skillings Road, including at the high school site. The existing site was chosen as the best site for WHS after a rigorous site review process based upon current conditions. (See winchesterhsproject.com FAQs for extensive information about the WHS site selection process.)

The flood mitigation efforts already undertaken have greatly reduced the flooding in the area of the high school and as a result, the building is not currently in the floodplain.  In fact, the first floor is three feet above the floodplain.  Moreover, the rebuild relocates all of the electrical and mechanical systems that are currently in the basement above grade so that they would not be affected by flooding.  Moisture barriers will be used and ventilation in the basement will help air movement and prevent any moisture odors.

Q.  Why didn’t the Town include the culvert as part of the WHS override?

The WHS project is being funded and executed in partnership with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, with the MSBA contributing in excess of $40 million to the project. The Town explored the possibility of including the culvert work as part of the WHS project, but the MSBA would not allow it.

Q. I understand that part of the baseball field is in the floodway. What will happen to the synthetic infill if there is a major flood event? Won’t the field fencing get in the way of the floodway?

A. It is correct that a portion the proposed multi-use synthetic field will be located within the floodway and floodplain. With the completion of the culvert, the reoccurrence interval of the field being flooded with be reduced, requiring a storm with over a 75-year return period to flood the fields. In addition, during that type of major flood event, the flood depths and velocities across the field will also be reduced. Velocities are anticipated to be less than 3 feet/sec. Velocities in this range are not anticipated to cause significant displacement of the infill material. If the infill material is displaced, the turf carpet can be opened so that the infill materials can be properly leveled and the carpet reinstalled.

Field fencing will be designed so that it can be removed in the event of a predicted flood, thereby ensuring appropriate functioning of the floodway.

Q.  Why is the culvert so expensive?

It is true that this project is the most expensive of all of the flood mitigation projects within the program. It is the only project of all of the Flood Mitigation Program projects for which the Board of Selectmen has proposed a debt exclusion override.  A significant cost driver is the fact that the approximately 1300 foot culvert must be supported with piles due to a 40-foot layer of peat underlying the area.

It is important to note that investment in this project not only improves the flooding situation in the area of Skillings Road, but also is a necessary precurser to the remaining projects that will have considerable additional neighborhood impact.  There is a good chance that the final two projects would be largely funded with state money under an Environmental Bond Bill. Therefore, if the Town is able to secure funding for the Skillings culvert through a successful override, completion of the entire FMP is within reach.

Q.  If the Skillings culvert is completed, what projects remain in the FMP? How much do they cost, and how will they be funded?

If funding is obtained for the Skillings culvert, the only remaining unfunded projects in the FMP will be improvements at the Swanton Street Bridge and installation of culvert at the railroad bridge near the Muraco School.  The most recent Environmental Bond Bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature includes $2.5 million for Winchester that could fund projects such as these. If the Town is able to complete the Skillings culvert, there is an excellent chance that the $2.5 million could be released to fund most of the cost of the remaining projects.

This funding is similar to $2.5 million, the release of which was obtained by Winchester in 2014 (from a 2008 legislative act), that is being used toward funding two other FMP projects – improvements at the Mt. Vernon Street Bridge and at the Scalley Dam in Woburn.

Q.  Is it correct that Winchester has $2.5 million available from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to use toward flooding? Why isn’t that money being used toward the culvert?

The most recent Environmental Bond Bill passed by the Massachusetts legislature includes $2.5 million for Winchester that could fund flood mitigation projects. However, the earmarking of funds under such a bond bill is only the first step in releasing these funds.

The Town obtained $2.5 million in 2014 under a similar bill passed in 2008.   These funds are being used toward two other FMP projects – improvement at the Mt. Vernon Street Bridge and the Scalley Dam in Woburn. (Having this state funding left only $500,000 for the Town to fund for these two projects, which funding was approved at Fall Town Meeting 2014.) According to the approved FMP, these two projects must be completed prior to completion and use of the Skillings culvert.

Given the Town’s recent success in securing the funds earmarked in 2008, the Town would be challenged to secure a prompt release of the next $2.5 million tranche. Moreover, even if the $2.5 million is secured, the remaining $4.95 million needed to complete the culvert would still prompt the Board to seek a debt exclusion override. If the Town is able to complete the Skillings culvert with its own funding, there is an excellent chance that the $2.5 million could be released to fund most of the cost of the remaining projects.

The Board of Selectmen and Town Manager’s office are grateful for the efforts of Winchester’s legislative delegation in advocating for these critical funds on behalf of the Town.

Q.  The Flood Mitigation Program was put together so long ago. Aren’t its assumptions about storms and flood levels out of date given what we now know about climate change?

The Flood Mitigation Program was not designed for a particular level of stormwater from a particular flood event. Rather, it was designed by analyzing the extent to which flood impact could be reduced (improving the “Level of Service”) along the Aberjona River for a variety of storm events – ranging from 2-year to 500-year return periods. A Level of Service that aimed to keep all flood areas “dry” for all storms would not be possible or practical due to fiscal, physical and regulatory constraints. The FMP therefore aimed to provide the maximum benefit practicable (including for 100-year plus storms) given these constraints. The projects will also serve to reduce flooding during more frequent events (e.g., 25-year storms). The optimal level of work was determined based upon engineering models, evaluation of river constrictions, site constraints, location of structures and infrastructure, and downstream community impact. The development of the FMP took over a decade to refine, including through a process of review under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) involving input from the public, multiple regulatory agencies, and up- and down-stream communities.

The FMP – now more than half complete — is the result of this work. It will significantly reduce but not eliminate all of the Town’s flooding problems. The Town will benefit from the projects under the FMP regardless of the impact of climate change. Upon completion of the FMP, flooding will occur with less depth (or not at all) and with less frequency than in the absence of the FMP.

It is important to note that the approved FMP projects are interrelated. To change the nature of one (as by changing the capacity for throughput, for instance), could create downstream flooding both within Winchester and other communities, as well as require adjustments to upstream projects (some of which have already been completed).  See December 16, 2014 PowerPoint Presentation.

Q.  Why isn’t the Town considering an open channel (“daylighting”) instead of an additional culvert?

The possibility of an open channel has been considered by the Town multiple times. As part of the process leading up to receipt of the 2007 MEPA certificate, the Town was required to present alternative solutions, and daylighting was considered as an alternative to the fourth culvert. In addition, in response to inquiries from interested citizens, an open channel was reconsidered in 2014, and the Town engaged Weston & Sampson to conduct a peer review of the cost analysis that its consultant for the culvert, VHB, had prepared. In addition, some citizens, with grant funding from community based organizations, engaged their own consultant to review the option of an open channel.

Full open channel. There are numerous reasons why an open channel is not the optimal solution for the Skillings phase of the FMP, but cost is a primary driver. An open channel design could increase the cost of the project to as much as $13.6 million.

In addition, the location of an open channel is considerably constrained by a large MWRA sewer pipe that runs under Skillings Field. The positioning of the pipe is such that the location of an open channel would result in a loss of playing field space.

Hybrid daylit channel. More recently, the suggestion has been made that a “hybrid” daylight model might be employed to create a better connection to the living river that runs through our Town and to facilitate migration of certain species of herring along the Aberjona. This would involve exposing a portion of the culvert somewhere along the 1300 foot stretch of culvert – ideally far enough along to limit the migration of the herring to smaller distances. A recent citizen proposal showed a possible exposed pool measuring approximately 30’ x 90-100’.

The Town’s engineers have estimated an increase in cost from this feature of as much as $400,000. While this cost might be able to be reduced through adjustments to the hybrid design, or possibly be raised through private funds, many questions remain to be answered to fully and accurately assess the cost. In addition, concern has been expressed at Board of Selectmen and School Committee meetings about the implications for both sports field utility and child safety of having an area of exposed water in a playing field area.

Town Management has suggested that if these issues can be resolved, the project might be slightly modified to accommodate this design feature. See January 30, 2015 Memo from Town Manager to BOS re daylighting.  However, funds would need to be raised either privately or through state grants, and the project schedule would need to stay on track.

The proposed culvert design includes grates that are designed to facilitate the migration of herring (by providing access to moonlight) without exposing a full pool of water.

Q.  What will happen to the Skillings culvert project if Question 1 does not pass?

If the culvert is not funded, the remainder of the Flood Mitigation Program is essentially put on hold. Until the culvert is completed and functional, the remaining projects in the Flood Mitigation Program could not be completed, and the neighborhoods and municipal infrastructure that stand to benefit from those projects would experience either a delay or loss of protection from flooding. The Town would risk foregoing the $2.5M earmarked for Winchester as part of the Commonwealth’s recently enacted Environmental Bond Bill.

If the Town were to delay or abandon its Flood Mitigation Program, it would run the risk of property damage from future flood events. Both the Town and some residents with homes in the floodplain would lose the financial benefit of any amendment of the flood plain maps that might eliminate the need for flood insurance. 

Environmental Remediation

Q.  Is it safe for the playing fields to be used right now?

The Town’s environmental consultants, after consultation with the Mass DEP, have advised that there is no Imminent Hazard pursuant to the regulations associated with the continued use of the playing fields. The remediation required is meant to ensure the long-term safety of the site.

Q.  What will happen to the environmental remediation project if Question 1 does not pass? 

While the contaminants in the soil at Skillings do not represent an Imminent Hazard, the Mass DEP does require the Town to mitigate the site and satisfy regulatory requirements November of 2019.  Current plans call for mitigation to be most cost-effectively completed by capping the site, which will require contaminated soil excavation and removal.  The required remediation ensures the long-term safety of the site, and is consistent with responsible stewardship of the land.

It is difficult to contemplate the logic of completing the work required at Skillings in connection with the WHS project without completing the environmental remediation. Numerous surfaces of the area are being touched through new parking on Skillings Field, repositioning of the baseball diamond, removal of the defunct track, and restoration of the baseball and multipurpose fields. To complete these surface treatments without regard to the quality of the underlying soil, only to tear up the surfaces again sometime before November of 2019 seems wasteful of both time and money.

Therefore, Town Management and the Board of Selectmen would revisit other priorities in the Town’s budget to see whether and how the money could be identified to complete the remediation in conjunction with the WHS work. This could include any or all of the following: (1) seeking funds from the WHS project budget for those areas within the WHS scope of work (which could preclude other “add alternates” proposed for that building); (2) delaying other capital projects; and/or (3) using reserves. Using free cash/reserves could impact the Town’s reserve policy, which could impact the Town’s Aaa bond rating, particularly in the absence of a demonstrated plan by the Town to replenish those reserves.

Q. How firm is the November 2019 DEP date? Couldn’t the town apply for an extension?

A. The November 2019 date comes from the regulations, and is the deadline for the Town’s requirement to reach either a Permanent or Temporary Solution or alternative interim regulatory status. There is no benefit to be gained by reaching a Temporary Solution or interim status under the regulations, which would delay, but not eliminate, the regulatory requirement to remediate and achieve a Permanent Solution (i.e., closure).  We cannot anticipate what conditions the DEP might impose for any such extension (if it were to agree to one), and the Town would incur additional legal and consulting fees in endeavoring to secure the relief.  In the meantime, the cost of the project would likely become more expensive over time.

Most importantly, to postpone the remediation would mean the Town would not be able to take advantage of cost savings and efficiencies that come with doing all the work — including the required remediation — on Skillings at the same time, as part of a coordinated plan.  To capture those savings, the remediation must occur during the WHS reconstruction (2016-2017), and not just by November 2019.

Baseball Field with Multisport Outfield

Q.  Why is Question 2 (ball field upgrade) conditional on passage of Question 1 (culvert and environmental remediation)? I’d like to support the playfield upgrade, but don’t want to pay for the other projects.

Executing the ballfield upgrade contemplated by Question 2 is conditional on passage of Question 1. This is because if not performed in the near future, both the environmental remediation and the culvert installation would need to be undertaken at some point down the road. It would not be a wise use of taxpayer funds to install a synthetic turf field that would later need to be disrupted for those other projects.

Scarcity of playing field space is a concern in Winchester, which is why the Board of Selectmen has proposed the ball field upgrade to the voters. However, the completion of the culvert and environmental remediation are more critical and urgent. In the case of the environmental remediation, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires that the Town resolve the soil contamination by November 2019 under a state-approved plan. The culvert is a critical part of the Town’s long-standing flood mitigation program, the completion of which will significantly reduce the property damage and expense that have historically resulted from flooding of the Aberjona River.

Q.  What will happen to the baseball field if Question 2 and/or Question 1 do not pass?

The baseball field will still be repositioned slightly to accommodate the new WHS parking arrangements at Skillings. The field will be reseeded, and is expected to be available for use in the Fall of 2018.  Although Phase 3 of the high school is expected to be completed in the fall of 2017, the grass field will need at least two growing seasons to provide a durable surface.

If Question 1 does not pass, and the culvert is not completed in conjunction with the WHS reconstruction, the ball field would be disrupted and would need to be restored again in the future when the culvert is installed.

Q.  Why is the Board of Selectmen proposing Question 2 even though Town Meeting voted against it?

The Board of Selectmen believes that Winchester’s voters should be able to consider whether they would like to vote to pay additional tax dollars for an upgrade of the Skillings baseball field to synthetic turf, with a multi-sport design for the outfield. See May 28 2015 BOS memo to Town Meeting members.  While this project does not have the critical nature of the Question 1 projects (flood mitigation culvert and environmental remediation), the timing and comprehensiveness of the work already underway at Skillings make this an ideal time to put the question to the voters. The voters may decide a synthetic turf field is worth additional tax dollars or they may decide they would prefer restoration of a grass field, as originally contemplated by the WHS reconstruction plan.

The Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting have different roles with respect to any proposed capital project to be funded through a debt exclusion override. The Board of Selectmen’s role is to vote on whether or not to propose the question to both Town Meeting and to the Winchester voters. The Board previously voted to put the question on a special election ballot, by unanimous vote.

The role of Town Meeting is to appropriate the funds to execute the project, if and when approved by the voters. In the case of a project to be paid for by borrowing (as proposed here), the required vote is 2/3. In the case of a project to be paid for without borrowing, the required vote is a majority. This vote may occur either before or after a vote on the override question at a general election.

In some communities, override questions are proposed to the electorate prior to their presentation to Town Meeting. In Winchester, while not required, the tradition has been that Town Meeting has first considered whether to make an appropriation, subject to a successful override vote.

In this case, Town Meeting did not approve the appropriation of funds to pay for the synthetic turf project, with 91 votes against appropriation and 59 votes for appropriation.

Winchester’s voters may reach the same conclusion on June 9, or they may indicate their preference to provide funds for a synthetic turf field. If the latter is the case, a warrant article would again be presented to Town Meeting, likely in the fall of 2015. The project would then move forward only with the requisite affirmative vote of Town Meeting.  See April 30, 2015 Memo from Town Counsel to the Board of Selectmen.

Q.  Why doesn’t Question 2 include proposed funding for lighting the synthetic field?

Including lights and bleachers would add approximately $800,000 to the project cost. The Board recognizes that the installation of lights could help resolve some scarcity of field space by increasing play time at the lit field. However it did not want to add to the cost of the project at this time for several reasons. First, while the Board wanted residents to be able to consider whether to take advantage of the work already occurring at Skillings to consider the synthetic turf upgrade, the Board is mindful of the total cost of the questions that are being put to the taxpayers.  Second, the Board recognizes that more neighborhood and School Committee and other community discussion might need to occur prior to any installation of lights. Third, the Board felt that the option of lights might be appropriate for a private fundraising effort, as has occurred for other sports amenity projects in Winchester.  Finally, the project will include installation of conduit for possible future lighting, as that is a relatively inexpensive feature compared to the cost of that preparation work once turf is already installed.

Q.  We already have a synthetic turf field at Knowlton Stadium. Why do we need another?

The Town has been experiencing increased demand for playing field space stemming from increases in both school enrollment and participation in sports. This demand is not satisfied under current circumstances, and will not be fully addressed even taking into account the potential increase in activity at Knowlton Stadium with the proposed installation of lights at that location. One way to increase playing time where there is limited field space available is to utilize synthetic turf, which allows a field to be used even when weather conditions are not optimal for grass fields.

Since synthetic fields are available for more extensive use, they can generate more activity at and around the field than a grass field. Skillings Field is an appropriate location for this activity, particularly where proposed, since it has no residences immediately abutting the field.   Rather, the field is directly adjacent to parking and other play fields, with Skillings Road and the train tracks abutting those uses. Locating an intensive use turf field at Skillings is one way to help distribute sports activity among various neighborhoods, and, in particular, to help keep the use of lights at Knowlton Stadium, where there are direct residential abutters, to reasonable nighttime hours.

Q.  It seems like we already have a lot of fields in Winchester.  Who is using the fields and why don’t we have enough?

Children are nearly 24% of the total population of Winchester; 5,070 children between the ages of 5 and 19 live here, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. School enrollment has increased sharply over the past 10 years. This year 1,209 students attend the high school, and high school enrollment is projected to continue rising. More children means more participants in youth sports, playing on school teams and/or Winchester’s many privately-organized, non-school athletic organizations.

Skillings Field provides space for 10 Winchester High School teams, involving 243 student athletes, for football, boys soccer, girls field hockey, boys lacrosse, and baseball this school year. Middle school football also uses Skillings. WHS also fields girls soccer, softball, and lacrosse teams, as well as co-ed Ultimate Frisbee, utilizing fields around town for practices and games.

There are many sizable privately-organized, non-school youth athletic organizations in Winchester for children of all ages. These groups also use town playing fields. (There are even a few adult groups.) The schedule for sharing field space throughout town, seven days per week, is complex. WHS teams have priority in using all school and town fields, for practices and games. For example, WHS Ultimate Frisbee is at Mullen Field after school. Non-school athletic organizations can use school and town playing fields (like Leonard, Lynch, Mullen, and McDonald fields) only after high school sports end at 5 p.m.

Non-school groups such as Sachem Youth Baseball and Softball (SYBS), Sachem Youth Football, Winchester Soccer Club (WSC), Winchester Youth Lacrosse, and MC Falcons (soccer) use field space at Skillings when available.  Winchester “Pop Warner” Football and Cheer organization uses Knowlton Stadium at Manchester Field. Winchester Recreation Department runs outdoor activities for children in town playfields.

If more field time were available at Skillings, particularly for WHS sports, the schedule could potentially be re-arranged and afford more flexibility for non-school groups to use town fields.

Q.  What would be the expected usage of the proposed field beyond baseball? Would the multi-sport field be able to be used for other sports even during baseball season?  Is it large enough to accommodate regulation play for other sports?

A.  Skillings Field currently houses ten Winchester High School sports teams, McCall Middle School football, Winchester Recreation Department programs, Winchester Youth Soccer, Winchester Boys Youth Lacrosse, Sachem Youth Softball and Baseball, Winchester Youth Field Hockey and adult baseball. These teams and organizations will utilize the proposed turf field throughout the year.

The Town Field Policy has created a protocol for determining field usage for all fields in Town. The Winchester High School teams in season have first priority on the fields, followed by other school and Town departments, then Town youth sports, and finally adult sports and outside organizations. As with all other Winchester fields, an equitable and fair schedule would be created to assure all groups availability to this new turf field.

The new field is not proposed to have a baseball outfield fence, so no structure would impede the use of the multisport outfield. The fence is proposed to be on the perimeter of the field for protection of the new turf field. During the baseball season the Winchester High School baseball teams will have first priority to use the field. All other groups will work together during the Spring Schedule Meeting in February to equitably and fairly reserve time on the new field.

Here are the dimensions required for various sports:

Soccer – 120×60 yards
Football – 120×53 yards
Field Hockey – 100×60 yards
Lacrosse – 110×60 yards

The turf outfield would be big enough to accommodate them all.

Q.  What would a synthetic turf baseball/multi-sport field look like? Would the pitchers mound, home plate and baselines also be synthetic turf like the outfield or would they be made out of clay?

A.  Some synthetic baseball fields are 100% synthetic, while others have a dirt/clay pitchers mound, home plate and/or baselines along with turf infields and outfields. Examples of synthetic turf baseball/softball/multipurpose fields in the area with varying designs can be found at Pine Banks Park (Melrose/Malden line), Malden Catholic High School, Watertown High School, as well as a number of other schools. The specific design for the synthetic turf field for Question 2 on the June 9th ballot has not yet been determined.  However, the $1.65 million estimate is based upon a 100% synthetic baseball multi-sport turf field, consisting of a synthetic turf outfield and infield, pitchers mound, home plate and baselines.

Q: Will the multi-sport field be interrupted by a “home run fence”?

A: No. The only fencing will be along the outer perimeter of the entire area of the turf. For purposes of baseball, this means that there will be an irregularly shaped outfield (as for many baseball fields/parks). The outfield will be defined by the perimeter of the multipurpose field, and so will be considered slightly “short” in left and right field.

For purposes of other sports, this means that there will be no fencing, either temporary/removable or permanent, that will interrupt the field of play. See https://winchesterskillingsproject.com/athletic-fields/ to see the shape of the turf surface.

Q.  I am concerned with the safety of a turf field that uses crumb rubber as an infill. 

The $1.65 million estimate for the synthetic turf was based upon the use of crumb rubber as an infill.  While there are not definitive studies either way, some jurisdictions have ceased using crumb rubber infill in favor of alternatives that have not raised such safety concerns.  As part of the final design process, the Town will consider the safety aspects of crumb rubber infill and consider alternatives, including organic materials.  An alternative infill would result in a higher project cost, which has not been specified for this project but could range from $100,00 to as much as $300,000.  The Town expects to have more specific information available on cost and material in advance of the June 9 election date.

Update June 3, 2015:

At its June 1 meeting, the Board of Selectmen was provided with further information regarding infill choices for the proposed synthetic field. This memo from the town’s consultant (VHB) includes a table showing some available infills and their various properties. Selection of infill for a synthetic field project depends on a variety of factors, including site properties, safety, intended sports usage, life cycle and cost.

While the infill will not be chosen until later in the design process (if Question 2 is approved), VHB did offer some preliminary recommendations with respect to infill selection. First, since the field is in a floodway, VHB would not recommend the use of either crumb rubber (SBR) or organic infill, as each is too buoyant to be appropriate for the site. Second, VHB would not recommend sand as an appropriate choice given the variety of sports the field is intended to accommodate. At this phase of concept design, and subject to further study, VHB indicated that either Coated Crumb Rubber (Encapsulated SBR) or EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer), each of which comes in colors other than black, would be a reasonable choice for the proposed field. These could increase the cost of the project by $100,000 to $270,000. The estimated tax impact of an increase in that range would be approximately 85 cents for an average household (i.e., an increase from approximately $14.00 to about $16.50).  See Tax Impact Page for estimated tax projections.

Q. What is the life expectancy of a synthetic turf field? How much does it cost to replace? I understand that the Finance Committee and some Town Meeting members have expressed concern about funding a project for which we do not have a dedicated source of replacement funds.

Synthetic fields are still relatively new, and their useful life is still being tested and understood with real world use. Manufacturers typically warrant their product for 8 to 10 years. (Knowlton Stadium’s turf has an 8-year warranty, and the Skillings warranty would depend on the selected supplier.) Anecdotally, however, and in particular with reference to neighboring communities, they seem to last for closer to ten to fifteen years. The Town’s experience with the condition of its turf field at Knowlton (first used in 2009) is in keeping with this expectation.

The proposed turf field is estimated to cost $1.65 million over a likely bonding period of 15 years (estimated $14 annual cost for an average assessed home). Turf replacement – which is only a portion of the initial installation cost — would likely be required at or during the final years of the initial bond term.

”Replacement” for an installed synthetic turf field means replacing only the infill and carpet, estimated at $400,000 depending on the infill material chosen. (Other costs, such as leveling, installation of curbing, and drainage are associated with the initial installation.) There will be an opportunity over a 10 to 15 year period through use and rental fees for a revolving account to pay not all but a portion of the replacement cost. Any remaining expense could be paid through short term borrowing, at a cost that could be absorbed in the operating budget with minimal impact. It should also be noted that the annual costs of maintenance are lower for a turf field than for grass.  (See next FAQ regarding maintenance.)  Each year, the Town approves and executes (with Town Meeting approval) a variety of capital projects, in each case without an earmarked source of funds for replacement. For example, schools are constructed without identifying dollars for replacement of their roofs, and DPW and fire trucks are purchased without a dedicated fund for their replacement. In an ideal budget environment, there would be a long-term plan for funding and replacement for ALL items of capital stock. The Board of Selectmen have discussed moving closer to that model by voting increased capital maintenance dollars in the Fiscal 2016 budget, but there is a long way to go.

Q. What are the maintenance costs of a synthetic turf field vs. a natural grass field?

Synthetic turf costs less to maintain than grass on an annual basis, although carpet and infill materials must be replaced at the end of their useful life (approximately 10-15 years). (See immediately preceding FAQ re: lifespan and replacement costs.)  The current cost for maintenance of that portion of the grass field at Skillings that is proposed to be replaced by synthetic turf is approximately $33,000. This includes approximately $33,800 for irrigation parts/labor, mowing, fertilization and field marking. In addition, watering the field uses approximately 1.35 million gallons of water each year, valued at approximately $19,500 at current water rates. This compares to current maintenance costs at Knowlton Stadium of approximately $6,000 for groom maintenance and line painting.

Q.  I understand that part of the baseball field is in the floodway. What will happen to the synthetic infill if there is a major flood event? Won’t the field fencing get in the way of the floodway?

It is correct that a portion the proposed multi-use synthetic field will be located within the floodway and floodplain. With the completion of the culvert, the frequency of the field being flooded with be reduced, requiring a storm with over a 75-year return period to flood the fields. In addition, during that type of major flood event, the flood depths and velocities across the field will also be reduced. Velocities are anticipated to be less than 3 feet/sec. Velocities in this range are not anticipated to cause significant displacement of the infill material. If the infill material is displaced, the turf carpet can be opened so that the infill materials can be properly leveled and the carpet reinstalled.

Field fencing will be designed so that it can be removed easily for the purpose of different sports as well as in the event of a predicted flood, thereby ensuring appropriate functioning of the floodway.

Q.  Would the proposed upgrade of the athletic field reduce other play field usage at Skillings Field?

No. At the northern end of the field, there will still be room for three multi-sport grass fields once the track is removed.  CLICK HERE for a graphic that shows how the fields on Skillings Field might be laid out after the removal of the track.  Question 2 pertains to only the baseball/multisport outfield turf upgrade, however.

Cost and Tax Impact

Q.  What is a “debt exclusion” override?  Once the culvert and remediation are paid for, will my taxes go down?

A debt exclusion override is a temporary increase in taxes to pay for a specific debt – typically a capital expense such as a building renovation or repair.  It is not permanent.  When the project has been paid for, the temporary increase will be revoked and taxes reduced.  See, e.g., http://www.mass.gov/dor/docs/dls/publ/misc/levylimits.pdf.

Q.  What will the projects cost the average Winchester taxpayer per year?

The exact cost to Winchester residents is yet to be determined because the terms of the bond (length, interest rate, etc.) have not yet been established.  Also, depending on the type of bond, the amount may vary slightly from year to year.  However, for a taxpayer owning a house valued at $872,100, $113 is a reasonable estimate for what the annual increase might be at the time of the full borrowing (FY 17). Of this, $64 would be for the culvert, $35 for the environmental remediation, and $14 for the field upgrade. The projects would likely have varying borrowing durations – under the assumptions used here, the field would be paid off first (15 years) and the culvert last (25 years).

Q.  How can I find out how much this project will cost me as a taxpayer?

Although the exact impact will not be known until the terms of the bond have been established, an estimate of the tax increase at the time of the full borrowing is $0.13 for each $1,000 value of your home.  For example, for a home valued at $500,000 the impact would be $65 annually ($500 x $0.13).  For a home valued at $872,100, the impact would be $113 ($872.10 x $0.13).  For more information, please contact the Town Manager’s office at 781-721-7133.

Miscellaneous

Q.  Has the School Committee taken a position on the overrides?

Yes, the School Committee unanimously approved the projects proposed by the Board for Skillings Field.  See January 27, 2015 School Committee Vote and School Committee’s Policy regarding School Controlled Turf Fields and Lighting dated January 27, 2015.  On April 14, 2015, the School Committee also voted unanimously to support the three warrant articles which requested that funds be appropriated to pay for the three projects, subject to the passing of an override.

Q.  Do any of the questions include funding for a pool at Skillings?

No. A private organization, Swim Winchester, has been conducting a feasibility study and site analysis to determine whether to raise private funds to construct a community pool. That project is not included in any of the currently proposed Skillings projects and, if pursued, would be on a slower timeline than any of the proposed projects (and than the WHS reconstruction).

Q.  Would any of the proposed projects at Skillings prevent the possibility of a pool at Skillings Field in the future?

No. As part of its alternative site analysis, Swim Winchester has indicated that it views the northeast corner of Skillings Field as a potentially favorable location, given its proximity to WHS, the Jenks and other sports amenities. Neither of the override questions is being presented for the purpose of making this site either more or less eligible for use for a community pool.  However, the change in the floodplain resulting from completion of the flood mitigation program could be helpful if a pool (or any other amenity) were constructed at Skillings.  Among the issues that would need to be resolved for a pool are some engineering challenges, as well as issues for the Town related to ownership, control and management of any such facility. Swim Winchester’s study and analysis continues to unfold, and, if pursued, a community pool would be on a slower timeline than any of the proposed projects or the WHS reconstruction.

Q.  What is the role of the Board of Selectmen and the Town Meeting in proposing and approving these projects?

The Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting have different roles with respect to any proposed capital project to be funded through a debt exclusion override. The Board of Selectmen’s role is to vote on whether or not to propose the question to both Town Meeting and to the Winchester voters. The Board previously voted to put the question on a special election ballot, by unanimous vote.

The role of Town Meeting is to appropriate the funds to execute the project, if and when approved by the voters. In the case of a project to be paid for by borrowing (as proposed here), the required vote is 2/3. In the case of a project to be paid for without borrowing, the required vote is a majority. This vote may occur either before or after a vote on the override question at a general election.

In some communities, override questions are proposed to the electorate prior to their presentation to Town Meeting. In Winchester, while not required, the tradition has been that Town Meeting has first considered whether to make an appropriation, subject to a successful override vote.

The Board of Selectmen have unanimously approved all of the proposed projects for consideration by the voters for a tax override. Any approval by the Winchester voters requires a vote of approval by Town Meeting, whether before or after the override approval.

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