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Westerly artificial turf field backers to make their case to the public

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct an error regarding the estimated cost of for two artificial turf fields proposed for Westerly High School. The initial story reported a greater amount and was incorrect.

WESTERLY — Proponents of establishing artificial turf playing fields at Westerly High School will soon begin a public information campaign to educate residents about what they see as the benefits of the fields.

James Murano, a School Committee member, and Vero Morrone, Recreation Board chairman, met with the Town Council on July 7 to discuss the field proposal and to get a read on the council’s plans. The council decided, by consensus rather than an actual vote, to ask voters whether they supported spending $2,075,000 for two artificial turf fields at the high school, one at Augeri Field and one at the quad field, or whether they supported spending just $975,000 for a single artificial turf field at Augeri Field.

Councilors stressed that residents must be presented with a clear picture of the town’s ability to borrow and how the fields fit in with another spending initiative — fixing roads.

“We need to see a whole package and not piecemeal...our priority was road repair and maintenance,” Councilor Patricia Douglas said. The council is also considering asking voters to support borrowing for road work.

Douglas said she is also concerned by a trend of spending and then “tearing down.” As an example, she said school officials oversaw construction of the quad in 2004 but now are proposing an artificial turf field for the space.

In January, the School Committee voted 4-3 to ask the Town Council to put what at the time was a $1.8 million proposal for two artificial fields before voters at a spring referendum. The council chose, instead, to put the question to voters in November.

The spring referendum was limited to a request to borrow up to $1.3 million for the 400-acre Lucey property in Bradford. Voters approved the spending.

Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. said he was surprised that Murano, Morrone, and other supporters of the artificial turf field proposal had been so quiet since the project was discussed during the winter.

“I haven’t heard a word since then, I haven’t had any information given to me,” Cooke said. To increase the likelihood of approval by the voters, Cooke said he and his fellow councilors must be sold on the field proposal.

Murano said that supporters of the project had intentionally waited until closer to the vote in November and were seeking a final stamp of approval from the council.

Also, he said knowledge the wording of the question or questions would allow for the development of information sessions that compare the relative merits of one or two fields.

“Our intent is to give as much information as possible and let the people decide,” Murano said.

Douglas noted that there are volumes of material, both pro and con, on the general concept of artificial turf fields. Councilor Jack Carson proposed giving voters a choice of one or two fields. He said the public information sessions must present clear information on the cost of the fields, the frequency and cost of replacement, and how those costs compare to current spending on field maintenance, materials, and labor for maintenance.

The exact wording of questions must be submitted to the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s Office by Aug. 6 at 4 p.m. to be included on the Nov. 4 ballot.

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