EDITOR'S NOTE: Mayor Shelley Brindle gave the following speech regarding Tamaques Park field renovations at Monday night's Westfield Recreation Commission meeting:
Thank you to all of you for coming tonight. Thanks especially to the League reps for being here, and to Hugh McGuire from Westfield Lacrosse, Noah Emont from Westfield Baseball and Scott Knaul from Westfield Soccer Association for the productive and positive conversations we’ve had this past week. I also want to thank Peter Echausse and Gary Fox for their leadership of the Recreation Commission, and specifically for their work on the Tamaques field project.
I wanted to address all of you tonight to put you at ease regarding the decision to revisit the site plans for the Tamaques field renovations.
First, let me reiterate how much I, and the newly elected council persons, agree that we desperately need more, and better fields in town. And we need them sooner rather than later. I am aware of it first hand. I have daughters that came through the soccer program, and my husband Kip and I have spent many hours at fields in other towns wishing we had fields to play on in Westfield. We have a son who currently plays PAL football and have had the experience of shining our car headlights on the Tamaques field so his team can finish practice.
We recognize that lighted fields expand capacity for practice and games, allowing us to accommodate the growing numbers of kids that want to participate in our amazing youth sports programs, and appreciate the economic development benefits of having travel teams come to Westfield.
Your frustration is understandable. You saw the goal line and feel like it was moved. We get it.
We know that dedicated folks have been working on this plan for two years and have come up with the most feasible and expeditious solution based upon the parameters that they were given.
Since this plan was conceived, we have many new stakeholders who were not part of the planning process, including Parks and Rec Director Don Bogardus, four new members of the Recreation Commission and a new head of DPW in Greg O’Neil. As newly elected officials, we would be remiss if we didn’t scrutinize the $6.8mm projected cost for the Tamaques Park Renovation that will ultimately be our responsibility to fund and bring to completion. In order for us to be effective champions for the project, we need to be confident that it yields the best outcome for the community. That said, we are equally responsible for delivering results, and we plan to do this.
We were also elected to deliver on a campaign promise to lead a community driven process to develop a new master plan for Westfield. Creating a holistic plan for all of our parks would be a component of that. It seems only natural to fold the Tamaques project into that process which would allow for greater public input and the opportunity to potentially yield a better outcome.
For example, in reviewing the current plans, one of the questions we asked was: Are the two fields being proposed enough to accommodate the growth projections for our youth sports? One purpose of a parks master plan is to create a long term field plan that could be implemented over time to ensure that we can proactively plan for growth, and not get caught again in the situation where we currently find ourselves.
So you can hopefully see why, from our perspective, it doesn’t seem prudent to move forward on this plan without taking the larger picture into consideration.
Know that this is not a debate over if we need new fields, but how we go about it.
I’d like to go over some specific concerns we have about the Tamaques site plan:
-Safety: The proposed parking and fields in the park would significantly increase park traffic, exacerbating an already hazardous situation for pedestrians, and further diminishing the parks use for walkers, joggers and bikers.
-Field house: This is a desperately needed amenity, but as proposed it sits in the middle of the park, and at almost 9,000 square feet it has the potential to overwhelm it. We also want to ensure that it’s projected cost of $2MM, which is almost 30 percent of the entire project, is the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
-Fencing: The 4-6’ proposed fence surrounding the turf fields significantly changes the open space nature of the park.
-Change of use: This proposal essentially changes Tamaques from a public park to a recreation facility. That’s a really big deal, and may be appropriate, but is a determination that would typically be the outcome of a parks master plan with significant public input from all users.
After speaking with Gary and Don, and the new town council members, we’ve agreed to accelerate the Parks Master Plan so it happens concurrently with the town master plan, allowing input in real time.
It’s our understanding that these fields as proposed wouldn’t be ready for play until fall 2019/spring 2020 assuming a process without delay, and an approval for funding by the council that has not yet happened. The net result of our proposal would be a publicly vetted project, with a potentially better outcome and support from the council and a projected potential completion date of fall 2020. And as an aside, the leagues would not need to pay for that study out of user fees because it’s a cost the town would be incurring as part of the master plan anyway.
In my two months in municipal government I have learned that we often end up settling for a lot of things because it’s so hard to get things done. Well we’re not interested in settling. Not if we don’t have to. And you in turn should hold us accountable for our commitment to you.
This town council is looking forward to supporting Gary and Don as they lead this process on behalf of the community to bring more fields to Westfield.