A dozen residents of the neighborhood surrounding Westfield High School met Wednesday evening to discuss their concerns regarding the proposed installation of a lighted turf field that, for many of them, would be, literally, in their backyard.
The group sat on lawn chairs on the WHS grass field, which could be the future home of the synthetic playing ground, with seating capacity for 540, and six 80-foot light poles.
Following the neighborhood outreach meeting held Tuesday, July 10 hosted by Westfield Board of Education president Richard Mattessich, facilities chair Jane Clancy and Westfield schools' athletic supervisor Sandy Mamary, the group feels many questions are still unanswered.
For several residents, the sticking point is that the funding for the field, which will cost an estimated $3.3 million, has been bundled with proposed roof repairs, estimated to cost $13 million. Westfield residents will vote on one bond referendum that, if passed, would finance both expenditures, on Monday, September 24.
"How did it get to the point where we're bundling a 'nice to have' with a necessity to keep our kids safe?" a Codding Road resident asked. "When we asked why the two were put together, the only answer we got is because they (the BOE) were afraid that the turf field would pass but the roofs would not."
"I'd like to know the percentage of emails they received that said that," an Edgar Road resident scoffed.
Several homeowners fear this could set a precedent of combining luxuries with necessities.
Despite the attendance of experts at the July 10th meeting including Bob Zoeller from Musco Lighting, architect George Duthie and Perry Di Piazza of Field Turf, who presented an overview of the proposed field, WHS area residents said they still don't know what maintaining a lighted turf field will cost Westfield taxpayers.
"What will the electrical bill cost? Who's paying for the light bulbs and who is changing them? How is this fiscally responsible? No one has answered these questions," a Codding Road resident said. "The traffic situation hasn't been addressed either."
Residents believe evening events and weekend-long tournaments will generate additional parking problems in an already-crowded neighborhood.
"It's like bumper cars pulling in and out of my driveway as it is," one Trinity Place resident stated.
An Edgar Road resident said that so many cars were parked on her street during the high school's graduation, an ambulance or a fire engine would not have been able to get through, something that particularly concerns her given that she has a 96-year-old neighbor.
"Aren't we paying enough in taxes as it is?" one homeowner asked. "Eighty-eight percent of the school budget is paid for by local support as opposed to 42 percent in the rest of the state and now we're not even given a choice of what we want to pay for."
Residents quoted BOE member Mitch Slater, the lone dissenter when it came time to approve a two-year contract with the Westfield Association of Administrators and Supervisors at the June 26th meeting of the BOE. Slater advocated for a contract with a one-year wage freeze – "to better reflect the current economic conditions and to help drowning taxpayers catch their breath."
Slater voted with BOE members Gretchan Ohlig and Mark Friedman to separate the bond referendums but they were outvoted 5-3. Ann Cary was absent for the vote.
Those opposed to the field agreed the funds could be put to better use to maintain the schools or enrich current academic programs. One resident referenced a father who spoke at the outreach meeting and stated that his daughter was bringing paper towels to school.
"I don't mind sending in paper towels or wipes when they send home the list of things they need but not when they're spending money on things like this," another Trinity Place resident said.
Of great concern to everyone present was the potential decrease in property value. While they said they knew they were buying homes near a school, they did not sign up for 80-foot light poles in their backyards or lights possibly shining into their houses.
"These are two- and three-bedroom homes," a father of three, who owns a home on Trinity Place, said. "We're all working hard to increase the value of our homes. This isn't happening in the six-bedroom-estate neighborhoods of Westfield."
Residents also expressed concern that other communities within Westfield are not even aware of the proposed field or the bundling of the field with the roof repairs. Those that do not have children, or families whose children are no longer in the school system, have no reason to check the BOE's website where most of the information regarding the proposed field is posted, they stated.
When asked if the BOE had been invited to attend the meeting, the group said they had not contacted the Board as they did not feel it would yield any new information.
"I don't think we need another meeting," an Edgar Road resident said. "They now know how upset people are."
This is the first of a multi-part series that will explore the various views regarding the proposed field. Check back with Patch over the next several weeks for more on this issue.