Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Letter to BC Task Force: Athletics Facilities

At Tuesday night's meeting of the BC Task Force on the topic of athletic facilities in Boston College's Institutional Master Plan Notification Form, I presented the following letter to the task force for their consideration.

The information in the letter grew out of a series of community meetings of the BC Neighbors Forum during 2007 which I facilitated.  It is not a "position paper" (nor a public comment for the scoping determination) per se, but instead my attempt at summarizing the various concerns that were raised at those meetings.

The letter focuses on the "Brighton Fields," the athletic facilities in the former St. John's Seminary land.  At the end, I append a couple of additional comments I made at the meeting about the proposed Shea Field Dorms and the proposed Recreation Center on the Lower Campus.

To: Jeanne Woods, Chair, BC Task Force
Date: January 8, 2008

Dear Ms. Woods,

Here are a series of issues that I have heard raised about the athletic facilities proposed by Boston College as part of their Institutional Master Plan Notification Form of December 5, 2007:
  1. Motivation. Why does BC need to create new and fancy baseball and softball stadiums? This doesn't line up with anything in BC's strategic plan. (The closest thing seems to be “student formation.”) Only 8% of BC undergraduates play varsity sports. Only 37/16 students play varsity baseball/softball. 400-600 play intramural softball (depending on double-counting), which is only around 4-7% of the total undergraduate population. Baseball attendance is usually low, according to John Bruno, such that current, modest bleachers are adequate. The motivation for adding seats over current capacity needs to be scoped and strongly justified.

  2. Impact of Playing Fields on Neighbors' Quality-of-Life. Brighton residents who live next to Rogers Park have complained of the following problems, which are likely to be at least as bad for neighbors (e.g., along Lane Park) of BC's proposed Brighton Fields. All these issues need to be fully scoped as to how BC's proposed IMP will mitigate their impacts.
    • Lighting. Bright field lights prevent people from going to sleep and are highly damaging to young children's sleep patterns. Light even illuminates rooms facing away from the field.
    • Noise. Ballgames, even without spectators and amplified sound systems, are often so loud that TVs and closed windows cannot drown out the sounds.
    • Drinking. Even at playing fields where alcohol is banned, its usage is frequent and magnifies other problems.
    • Parking. City enforcement of illegal parking is poor-to-nonexistent next to city parks on the weekends when usage peaks. Residents cannot find spaces and have their driveways blocked.
  3. Constraints on Usage. BC's IMPNF gives absolutely no indication of how the usage of the playing fields and stadiums would be constrained. Strong constraints should be fully scoped.
    • Lighting. BC proposes that all four fields will be fully lighted for nighttime use.
      • Design. How can this lighting be designed to minimize impact to neighboring houses?
      • Usage Hours. How can the usage hours of the lighting be minimized so that they are only occasionally used? For example: lighting only allowed for ___ games and ___ practices of the baseball/softball varsity teams, and never used for intra-murals.
    • Usage. How many days and nights per year will each field be used? BC has only given an indication of the number of baseball games, not the number of hours of intramural practices, games, tournaments, etc. Far more students participate in intra-murals (thousands) than in all varsity athletics (780). Example: practices only allowed until 5 pm/8 pm winter/spring.
    • Community Access to Fields. The fields are currently a natural resource of Brighton, a neighborhood with a lower per capita amount of open space than Boston as a whole. How will Brighton residents be able to use the fields for access, walking, informal play, organized sports, etc.? Harvard, for example, allows both informal neighborhood and community club use of their track outside of varsity sports practice times.
    • Overflow Crowds for Baseball. The hillside by St. Clement's Hall will lie beyond the baseball stadium's outfield, but could easily be used informally as overflow spectator seating for 500-1000 or more people. How will BC enforce (or prevent) additional spectator usage of the hillside? (Expanding a baseball stadium using hillside seating has been used in the ACC!)
    • Sound System. Softball practices at Shea Field have been reported to be noisy with sound systems playing loud music. Strict limitations on sound system usage is necessary.

  4. Artificial Turf vs. Natural Turf. Standard artificial turf contains toxic chemicals that are dangerous both to users and the environment. Testing in a number of cases has shown chemical levels in excess of some state laws and/or regulations. See: .

    The primary issue that keeps coming up with artificial turf is the toxicity of the rubber crumb layer. Standard industry practice constructs the rubber crumb out of used (recycled) automobile tires.

    Disposal of such tires by consumers and industry is heavily regulated – but, strangely enough, it is not regulated as far as its use as a layer for artificial turf fields. In many communities it is illegal to throw tires into the trash (which goes to landfills), but it is perfectly OK to dump tires into the ground for a playing field.

    Rubber crumb contains a wide variety of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Many PAHs have been studied and classified by the EPA as "known" or "probable" human and/or animal carcinogens (cancer-causing).

    The PAHs primarily enter the human body through inhalation (e.g., dust), while they can enter into the water table via the small pelletized crumb.

    Sweden, for example, has banned the use of recycled tires in construction of artificial turf fields. Communities throughout the country, including towns near to Boston, have been re-considering plans to install artificial turf because of the potential carcinogenic exposure.

    Artificial turf fields also provide no natural habitat for wildlife currently inhabiting the area. Birds, for example, rely on worms in the soil.

    A convincing case has yet to be made as to why three of the four athletic fields proposed for the Brighton Campus need to be constructed of artificial turf. The Boston Red Sox do perfectly well on grass and many, if not most, professional athletes prefer natural turf. The effects of toxic rubber crumb on air quality, athletes, the water table, and nearby Chandler Pond all need to be fully scoped along with an independent environmental [impact] peer review.

    Needless to say: artificial turf salesmen are inadequate sources of information.

  5. Moving Baseball Stadium Away From Lane Park. Issues about the baseball stadium noise, lights, and usage would be lessened if it could be moved further away from the houses on Lane Park (and Glenmont Road). Relocating the stadium away from houses should be scoped. [NOTE: there are two possibilities: 1. moving it closer to the Edison School, possibly including a 180 degree rotation; and 2. moving it close to the currently proposed site for the softball stadium.]

  6. Deed Restriction on Brighton Athletic Fields. BC has included no deed restrictions in their IMPNF to protect Brighton Campus open space from future development. Harvard University recently agreed to such a restriction for land next to the Arnold Arboretum. A deed restriction on the playing fields should be scoped as a requirement of construction of the Brighton Fields.  [NOTE:  Jeanne Levesque said at the meeting that a "conservation easement" is the correct term for this, not "deed restriction."]

  7. Impact on St. John's Seminary and Seminarians. How will construction and usage of these athletic facilities impact the historical building St. John's Hall? How will it impact the life of diocesan seminarians? Many seminarians may be worried about speaking publicly of their concerns. The task force should seek confidential input from this community.

Michael Pahre
76 Foster Street
Brighton, MA 02135

  1. Shea Field Dorm Location.  The current location of one building among the Shea Field Dorms is directly across St. Thomas More Road from the Chestnut Hill Reservoir.  Valid concerns have been raised about the location of this dorm so close to public open space.  Moving the building next to the (expanded) parking garage would allow for a more gradual increase in building height from Reservoir to stadium, and provide appropriate setback from the Reservoir.  Relocating this building should be investigated and scoped.

  2. Recreation Center Location.  BC has proposed constructing the new Recreation Center at the current location of Edmonds Hall, a 790-bed dormitory.  Inspection of the dimensions of the Rec Center show that it fits within the More Hall parcel, and is of similar height to the More Hall Dorms proposed for that site.  This scenario would increase the net number of undergraduate beds on-campus by 370!  (Edmonds Hall's 790 beds would not need to be razed, while the proposed More Hall Dorms, with 420 beds, would not be built.)  This option should be fully explored and scoped, particularly since it can be implemented without any project sequencing delay.

1 comment:

dave said...

As a life-long resident of Brighton I would like to commend you on the letter you wrote concerning the BC athletic facility expansion on the former St. John's land. I was unable to attend the meeting but as a life long resident of Brighton well connected to the community I can tell you that almost everyone I have spoken to that has lived in the community most of their lives shares your concern with the proposals set out by BC even though they have not been able to attend the community meetings. Upon buying the land, BC should have weighed in more heavily the consequences of the purchase and the affects on the surrounding community.

We as a community in Brighton are at a very important crossroad because what is allowed for development by BC on the former St. John's land will have a dramatic impact on the shape of the community, and it is my sincere hope that the local politicians who represent Brighton understand this argument.

Regardless of what several BC proponents have claimed in previous discussions, BC does not have the right to do as they wish with the current land if it affects the surrounding community in a negative way. Fortunately we have representatives in government to serve the communities best interest, and it is again my sincere hope that they understand this role.