New capital requests in fiscal year 2024 for the Department of Public Works (DPW) are intended to enable better maintenance of athletic fields at the regional schools and throughout town.
More than $300,000 worth of field maintenance equipment is among the list of equipment requests described by Superintendent Guilford Mooring at a Joint Capital Planning Committee meeting on March 2. Most of the equipment was noted to be new to the DPW’s inventory, such as a deep tine aerator, top dresser, groomer, broadcast spreader, and turf vacuum. Others (spray tank, roller, walk behind aerator, and power takeoff debris blower) are replacements of current items which were “not considered up to date to maintain the fields to the level that has most recently been by discussed the Regional School Committee, Town Council, sports boosters, and others.”
The DPW, which is responsible for maintaining all of the athletic fields located in town, including those owned by the Regional School District at the middle and high schools, provided additional responses to questions raised at the JCPC meeting.
Any staffing needs to perform maintenance work will be part of the operating budget which has not yet been released. Mooring said the department does not have full time staff dedicated to field maintenance; instead, this work represents a portion of multiple employees’ jobs. “During the spring it can be the majority of at least two employees’ daily work but that changes as the year goes on,” Mooring wrote. The town does not currently contract with or employ professional groundskeepers or field maintenance experts; the town employs two individuals who graduated from UMass, one of whom has a degree in plant and soil science and is the lead employee caring for the fields, according to Mooring.
For consumables such as fertilizer, seed, etc. used to maintain the town’s athletic fields, Mooring responded that he has requested an additional $63,000 for FY24. Separately, he reported that the Tree and Grounds department has a $2,000 budget for fertilizer/chemicals. Funding for consumables used on the regional fields comes from the regional school budget. The DPW did not provide budget figures for this but noted that “there is not a large budget for this at the regional schools”. Regarding soil testing, Mooring wrote that the town “has tested soils in the past and plans to do more in the future. Funding for soil testing is part of additional budget requests in FY24.”
The need for better maintenance of grass athletic fields came to the fore last fall as the Town Council debated whether to commit $900,000 from the town’s free cash toward the high school track and field project. The Council was divided over the inclusion of an artificial turf field but support was unanimous for improving existing grass fields. The absence of any requests for funding for field maintenance in the Regional Schools FY24 capital and operating budget drew some attention last month. In response to questions about the Regional School District reimbursing the town for costs to maintain the district fields, Town Finance Director Sean Mangano said a financial arrangement will be pursued to compensate the Town.