By KATIE MOEN
For The Westfield Leader
WESTFIELD — One of Westfield’s most oft-debated projects took a final step towards fruition on Tuesday when the town council voted to approve an $11.8-million bond ordinance that will be used to renovate the athletic fields behind Edison Intermediate School.
The ordinance, Mayor Shelley Brindle said, was intentionally introduced to coincide with the first wave of PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) funding from the Westfield Crossings redevelopment project. Those payments, the mayor continued, will be used to repay any debt service incurred by the bond.
“The $11.8-million bond that we are authorizing tonight is for more than the anticipated final project costs [of $8.3 million], but that was done to ensure maximum financial flexibility so that we can have the option to consider the most environmentally-sensitive materials possible,” Mayor Brindle said, adding that rising construction costs and inflation also could impact the project’s final price tag.
Any unused funds will be re-appropriated to other community projects.
The measure passed with a vote of 8 to 1 after a brief discussion by the council. Councilman Mark LoGrippo, who said Tuesday that he would have preferred to see the project put to a public referendum, voted against the ordinance.
The project, which has been amended several times over the course of the past two years, will include new athletic fields (some of which will be fitted with synthetic turf), an improved drainage and storm-water mitigation system, stadium lighting and a new bathroom facility.
Several residents who live near the field — Tim Eaton, and Jean and Gregg Lehmberg — approached the council ahead of Tuesday night’s vote to voice their lingering safety and environmental concerns surrounding synthetic turf fields.
“We are surrounded on every level by plastics and synthetic chemicals that our grandparents never encountered. We are still learning about the impacts that these products can have on our health and on our environment,” Mrs. Lehmberg said. “Replacing a natural-grass field with a plastic carpet is a really bad idea, especially on school property or in a park.”
Councilman David Contract, who voted against the project earlier this year, said Tuesday that while he would be willing to support the bond ordinance, the installation will need to be “carefully monitored” to ensure compliance with local, state and federal environmental regulations.
“I know this probably isn’t much solace to the residents who have spoken out against this project, but at the end of the day, I’m willing to compromise to do what’s best for Ward 3, and I think my vote tonight reflects that,” Councilman Contract said.
In related park news, the council also voted Tuesday to move ahead with plans to fence in the playground at Mindowaskin Park.
“Tonight’s resolution was initially recommended as part of our strategic parks plan and has subsequently been requested by numerous parents who use the playground regularly,” said Councilwoman Emily Root, who added that the long-awaited installation had been temporarily postponed due to necessary stream clean-outs in the park.
The four-foot-high steel fence, Town Administrator Jim Gildea said, also will help to mitigate late-night activity in the park.
“We had some more security issues come up this spring, most of which had to do with teenagers hanging out in the park after hours,” Mr. Gildea said. “This will allow the police to have better control over the area and to keep people out when they’re not supposed to be there.”
The $38,420 fence, purchased through an arrangement with the Union County Cooperative, could be ready for installation as soon as next month.
The next meeting of the Westfield mayor and council will be held at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 13, at Town Hall.
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