Ward Street Grass Roots

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

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Minimal to Commercial Use

THREE: from a manageable town-based operation that has minimal impact on the town’s resources, to a commercial-like sports business that puts a major burden on the town’s resources.

In order to be financially successful, this project has to involve both public and private use, so it needs a much more complex level of management than the town is used to. The town departments of recreation, DPW, schools, police, emergency response, conservation and water will need to be involved in its management and maintenance.

Plus, we cannot forget that we the townspeople would be GIVING this land to this project. The business plan does not work without this gift. But then, the use of this land would be restricted mostly to the relatively few select people who play organized sports, including many non-Hingham residents.

Yes the project would be used by youth sports teams from Hingham, and might help to extend the life of the 33 other grass fields around town. And the initial costs of building the fields would be covered by generous donations. But it’s like a free puppy. We love the idea of the puppy: it makes us and our kids feel good, it provides lots of happy hours of fun, and it was given to us! By our generous neighbors! But – you know what’s coming next – the costs of training it, feeding it, taking it to the vet, finding someone to watch it when you go away – never end. And it keeps growing!! And those kids who clamored for the puppy grow up and get busy and guess who is left with the responsibility?

Building, managing, maintaining and eventually replacing two artificial turf fields every 10 years, along with the parking lots, fencing, landscaping, drainage, possible lighting, traffic, police details, emergency services, trash, security, insurance for vandalism and accidental damage, liability and environmental clean-up, and everything else that must be in place for the fields to function for the next decades, will very soon become the financial responsibility of the town.

The proponents really want the puppy. But our research shows that the business plan they have presented depends on unsubstantiated assumptions about revenue, underestimated annual operating costs, and an unrealistic estimate of the cost to replace the field in 10 years and again 10 years after that.  If any one of these pieces does not live up to expectations, the business plan is in shambles. Who picks up the responsibility in years to come? The Town. Is it worth destroying a beautiful parcel of open space and natural habitat for such a risky proposal? Under this plan, the use of this land changes from one that is supportable, simple and manageable, to one with multiple costs that will drain the resources of the town for years to come.

Summary of Financial Issues

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.