Ward Street Grass Roots

A Hingham organization fighting for rational use of our Town’s resources

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Finance

The Town of Hingham has been presented with a generous offer by private citizens who make up the Ward Street Turf Field Fund (WSTFF) to donate the funds necessary to build two fenced synthetic turf fields with parking lots on 13 acres of town owned property on Ward Street.  One parcel of land (called Margetts Field) is controlled by the Recreation Department and the second parcel, an undeveloped adjacent meadow & woodlands, is controlled by the Selectmen; this will be the case going forward. The Recreation Department will be responsible for the management, maintenance, and rental of both fields, on behalf of the Town.

The WSTFF business plan proposes that the annual costs to operate and maintain the turf fields will be covered by revenues from renting the fields to both Hingham and non-Hingham sports clubs of youth and adults, along with income from concession sales.

The WSTFF business plan also allocates $400,000 for a replacement fund to replace the fields in approximately 10 years, as recommended by the manufacturer.

WSTFF have submitted a warrant article for approval at Town Meeting, asking for a recreational district overlay to be placed on the region, to allow them to install 80’ lights around both fields.

Ward Street Grassroots and others have scrutinized the WSTFF business plan, have researched comparable costs, and have concluded that estimated expenses are vastly understated.

At the same time, the WSTFF plan relies on revenue from higher fees for lighted field use and use by non-Hingham teams. If Town Meeting does not approve lights for the fields, those revenues must be removed from the equation. That means that proposed revenues are in question until after Town Meeting and would be overestimated if the lighting is not installed.

Grassroots believes that this project represents an unwarranted financial risk to the town. Our research supports the following concerns:

•  the projected annual operating and maintenance expenses AND the projected revenues are not clearly spelled out and seem to be underestimated

•  the cost to remove, dispose of and replace the two synthetic turf fields in 10 years will be more than twice as much as projected ($1 – 1.2 million, rather than $400,000) ; and 10 years beyond that, it will cost even more

•  We ask that the Recreation Commission, which is drafting an operations and management agreement that must be in place before construction, make their agreement available for public review before it is signed by the WSTFF.

DETAILS:

The financials of the project are grim and are made suspect by a lack of concrete and specific financial information from the Proponents.  We have spent many hours tracking down and verifying the annual operating expenses of this project by speaking to operators of artificial turf fields and researching other town budgets.  We find that a reasonable estimate for simply operating the two turf fields and its attendant infrastructure comes to about $49,000 ($56,000 with lights).  The Rec Commission has begun to do some work on this and their detailed estimates of DPW work only are over $20,000.  The Proponents simply state expenses of $10,000 without any detail.  The Proponents made this estimate when the project also included a dome, they have been silent with estimates for just the fields.

Since these fields have a short and finite life-cycle of approximately 10 years, factoring in the replacement costs are necessary.  We’ve estimated the current replacement costs (in 2010 dollars) to be above $1 million, an estimate that the Rec Commission’s independent research has confirmed.  The Proponents: $400,000, again using their initial project plan including the Dome.  Using a simple amortization schedule, the project must throw off an additional $100,000 per year to a replacement fund.  General inflation, increasing raw materials costs, and the rising costs of toxic infill disposal in 10 years are likely to make even our current replacement value a dramatic underestimate.

Finally, the revenues for the fields are a complete mystery to us.  We have spoken to many of the surrounding towns and find that there is dramatic excess capacity of lighted turf fields on the South Shore.  The Proponent’s dreams of covering the annual operating and capital costs of this project with substantial outside revenues is simply fantasy.  Making up the revenue by charging more to town sports has to be a non-starter.  Even using the Rec. Commissions numbers, which we think underestimate the total annual costs, the hourly rate for town sports must go from $8 per hour to $75 per hour.

Since the revenues from this project will not cover the expenses and the reasonable replacement costs of the project, the Town of Hingham will have to pay the difference and will likely to defer maintenance and replacement until the fields are unsafe when the project will simply be abandoned or replaced at great financial hardship.  Other towns that have artificial turf fields know that they cannot break even on these fields, some are planning to float a bond in the future, others are simply waiting and hoping to slip in the replacement at an opportune fiscal moment.  All this just to add one more field to the other 35 fields that Hingham runs. There is no doubt in our minds that this project is unsound in both its lighted and unlighted state.

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To learn more:
•  Read the list of questions raised by the business plan here
• Read more questions about the business plan here
Read more about the latest Financial Review by Michael Caplan here
Read more about on financial issues raised by Michaela McSheffrey here