Jessica Bartlett for The Boston Globe
Hingham Town Meeting on Monday voted overwhlemingly for an all-encompassing fields project, turning back pleas for a smaller project by a vote 1,354 to 347.
Debate about the estimated $4.5 million project went on for over an hour and a half, but despite allegations that the Hingham Sports Partnership had influenced the process, and even with a request for a secret ballot vote to discourage intimidation, residents voted in favor of the School Committee’s plans.
“I think a lot of time and effort when into our proposal, and people participated in that in the last 18 months, and it felt great to have the vindication of an 80 percent [vote],” said School Committee chair Caryl Falvey. “That was phenomenal. I knew deep down in my heart we were doing the right thing, but it’s great to have it publicly verified.”
Falvey said the town should be ready to begin construction on the field this summer, and is already reviewing bids for the work.
The larger project includes town funding for a multipurpose artifical turf playing field, ADA-compliant bleachers with more than 2,000 seats, a press box, sound equipment, reconstruction of the baseball field, relocation of a softball field, drainage improvements, parking lot improvements, a concession/storage/bathroom facility, as well as a pedestrian walkway, landscaping, and fencing.
The meeting also approved the installation of privately funded lights, which will stand 80 feet over the turf.
The defeated proposal envisioned cutbacks in the bleachers, bathrooms, press box, and concession stand.
“It’s fiscally responsible, respectful of Hingham’s history, and deferential to central Hingham neighborhoods,” said Ben Burnham, who spearheaded the smaller proposal.
In addition to the cost reduction, the residents’ proposal would not have installed lights, because of concerns over how they affect neighbors and the landscape.
“They will be widely visible, and when illuminated at night, they will be seen from miles away. Is this the skyline Hingham residents desire?” said Mark Rockoff, a Pleasant Street resident.
School Committee members said the light poles would be shorter than Town Hall.
Hingham High Athletic Director Margaret Conaty also defended the lights as a scheduling and community-building tool, saying similar amenities in Duxbury made all the difference during certain games.
Other critiques about the larger project – that the money to pay for the project would be taken from funding something else in the future, that such a sharp focus on athletics would inevitably mean less of a focus on academics, or that attendance for games wasn't as large as claimed – were batted down by proponents throughout the night.
“If we spend the money on this project, it won’t be available for something else, but when Board of Selectmen and Advisory recommend a project of this size to you, we’re saying the need has risen to [a critical] point,” said Selectmen Chair Laura Burns.
Superintendent Dorothy Galo also maintained that academics has been and always will be the School Committee’s primary focus.
“Work on those goals will not be diminished because of this project nor will the School Committee’s advocacy, and neither will this town’s commitment to providing educational expertise to our town’s youngest residents,” she said.
Hingham Senior John O’Connell additionally noted the large attendance, saying that there has been a surge in attendance at away games, simply because they are played during weeknights.
Residents eventually approved all elements of the project in three separate votes.
“It feels great,” Falvey said. The School Committee will discuss bids on April 29.
OTHER APPROVED ARTICLES OF NOTE:
- Full $90.2 million town budget
- Over half a million dollars in Community Preservation Act projects for open space, historic, and affordable housing needs.
- A $1.1. million appropriation from Community Preservation Act funds for the $2.9 million construction of a town museum at Old Derby Academy
- Use of meals tax revenue to offset property tax increases from the Hingham Middle School construction
- Expansion of the tax work off program for seniors.