Report: Turf Bests Grass For High School Field; See Why At Public Meeting Wed., Aug. 21

Photo: A close up of the artificial turf at Harris Field.

A comprehensive “fact-based” report by a member of the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee recommends the group move forward with the construct of a new artificial turf ground known as the “Rugby Field” adjacent to the Wenner Field House.

The study’s conclusions will be featured in a grass vs. artificial turf discussion at a public meeting being held by the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee on Wednesday, Aug. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.

Authored by Robert “Bob” McLaughlin, the report concludes that turf’s greater capacity to withstand year-round use and the field’s location in a shady corner of the new school necessitates building a turf ground instead of a grass field.

While a growing number of Belmont residents and parents of students are raised concerns that turf fields are connected to serious health and safety issues including alleged increase in cancer rates for certain athletes, McLaughlin reported that independent research overwhelming concludes there are no proven detrimental health effects from playing on artificial fields.

The field, to be built in 2021, will be used by the state champion boys’ and girls’ rugby programs, as a practice and playing site for sub-varsity sports and for three-seasons of physical education classes.

The natural grass playing surface at Grove Street which includes a line of clovers.

The Building Committee’s Chair Bill Lavello said McLaughlin, and School Committee Member Katie Bowen will speak on the issue before the public comments on the findings.

In his 35-page report, McLaughlin started by stating the obvious: Belmont doesn’t have enough playing fields to meet the demands of school teams and the town’s recreational programs with grounds crowded with school and club teams year-round. Currently each town field is used on average 482 hours in the spring and 290 in the fall above the advised limit of 250 hours each season to avoid stress and deterioration.

The town has pointed out in the past the expense of maintaining a healthy football/soccer-sized grass field at upwards to $100,000 annually as well as the loss of playing space as natural surfaces need to be “put to bed” for the following playing season (in the spring if games are played during the fall) to allow the grass and top soil to recover.

The school district’s Athletic Director Jim Davis noted to McLaughlin that turf fields can be used more often, require less maintenance and can be used by many sports without a loss of field consistency.

McLaughlin points to “many … studies” suggesting turf fields can be used “three times” more than natural grass without the wear and tear placed on a nature surfaces.

“The flexibility and increased usage available with artificial turf is vital to maintaining an acceptable athletic program for the now-expanded grades 7-12 enrollment on our limited school campus,” McLaughlin said.

But it is alleged health concerns to young adults and children that prompted the committee to request the study. The report was commissioned in June after a group of residents questions the safety of artificial grass playing ground at the school and in town.

McLaughlin acknowledge the worries from residents and people that turf fields are allegedly linked to cancer threats from the rubber infill – the small round pellets known as crumb made of ground tires – used in the majority of the 13,000 synthetic athletics fields across the US.

Yet McLaughlin could not find any evidence “in the plethora of studies” he researched that links the infill – which McLaughlin noted contains known carcinogens – to increased cancer rates among players who use the turf fields.

He added that just last month, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued a final report of a multi-agency study (dubbed the Federal Research Action Plan on Recycled Tire Crumb Used in Playing Fields and Playgrounds or FRAP) that concluded while chemicals are present in the crumb rubber, “human exposure appears to be limited on what is released in the air or simulated biological fluids.”

There are alternatives to rubber infill such as a cork and coconut mixture and quartz-based sand. Yet each has its own issues: the cork/coconut mix will “freeze” on the first fall frost and has a higher rate of abrasion injuries while field operators question whether commercial sand can stand up to a field under continuous use.

McLaughlin countered some of the health concerns by noting that physical activity during adolescence and early adulthood helping prevent cancer later in life and leading to a reduction in cardiovascular ailments.

While further studies assessing individual-level exposure is needed, [U]ntil then, however physical activity should be encouraged and promoted by year-round, weather resistant fields,” said McLaughlin.

Second, on the list of issues is elevated temperatures produced by a turf field, increasing temps 20 to 40 degrees F. Critics contend the super-hot grounds could prove a serious health condition especially for younger players.

Athletic Director Davis has informed town officials the “cushion” the turf lies on is coated white, which absorbs a great amount of the heat. Davis noted the overwhelming injury concerns at Harris Field are from possible concussions and ligament damage rather than heat. In addition, most high school practices occur after 3 p.m., once the hottest part of the day has passed.

Some residents who are opposed to artificial turf have expressed their goal of not just stopping the high school’s second turf field but also taking out the small field at the Wellington Elementary School and reverting Harris Field to natural grass when the current artificial turf is retired with the next decade.

Support for natural surfaces is growing around town. A few residents who attended a July public meeting on placing temporary lights at two town playing fields to support Belmont Youth Soccer said they would not allow their children to play high school sports due to the artificial turf surface.

Those health warnings associated with artificial turf prompted Connecticut legislators to sponsor a bill that would prohibit towns and school districts from installing new artificial fields. The measure remains in a legislative committee.

At a meeting last month, the Belmont Board of Health stated it may need to weight in on the matter.

It is not known if the Building Committee will vote after the discussion Wednesday on moving forward with a specific surface.

Breaking: Man Hit, Killed By Commuter Rail Train At Brighton Street

Photo: Commuter trains along the Fitchburg line at Belmont’s Brighton Street intersection.

An unidentified 21-year-old man was killed early Monday morning, Aug. 19, when he was hit by a commuter rail train as he attempted to cross the tracks at Brighton Street, according to Transit Police. It is unknown which hospital Belmont EMT took the man.

The incident occurred at 6:16 a.m., according to public safety officials at the scene. The Number 400 train, the first of the day inbound to Boston, is scheduled at the Belmont station at 6:13 a.m.

A dozen officials from the MBTA, Transit, Belmont and State Police, as well as Keolis Commuter Services which runs the commuter rail system for the MBTA, were at the scene collecting evidence. Just before 9 a.m., officials examined then took a bike away – along with a helmet and a carrying case – that was leaning up against a signpost.

The accident occurred on the MBTA right of way, which is under the control of Transit Police.

Today marks the fourth time in a little more than a decade a serious accident occurred at the Brighton Street crossing. A man was killed by a train in February 2009 and a woman seriously injured after her vehicle was caught between the gates in December 2016. In March 2018, a man in his 60s suffered life-threatening injuries after being hit late at night.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Pile Driving At High School Starts Tuesday, Aug. 20

Photo: Pile driving set to start on Tuesday.

Get ready, Belmont. Beginning early next week, the neighbors living near the Belmont Middle and High School construction site will soon be listening to 10 hours a day of “the rockinest, rock-steady beat” of pile driving madness.

That’s the word from Skanska, the project’s general contractor, which announced the long awaited installation of the underpinnings of the new school’s foundation at the Belmont Middle and High School Building Committee meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 13. The foundation will require a few hundred piles (essentially poles) to transfer the large building loads to the earth farther down from the surface.

According to Project Manager Mike Morrison, the pile driving team will be onsite by Friday, Aug. 16 with the actual installation of the first of the 80 foot piles beginning on Tuesday, Aug. 20.

And the pounding will be a constant for residents and students for the next months. The steady beat of the drill pounding away on the site will run from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

In addition, due to state regulations on the transportation of extremely long piles on highways, residents can expect deliveries traveling on town streets from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.

Just how long will the steady beat of piles being driven deep into the soil? Morrison would only say the work will continue “through the fall” with no specific end date.

And it will be loud. According to data from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the noise produced when the anvil strikes the strike plate on the pile can generate noise as much as 135 dB, which is somewhere between jackhammer and a jet engine. Even 200 feet from the source, the noise can reach 68 dB.

For some, the vibration and noise can be too much. On the website, the pile driving conducted at the former Lane & Games bowling alley off of Route 2 in North Cambridge a year ago brought a torrid of complaints from Arlington and Cambridge residents.

“Like you, we’re pretty annoyed by hearing it start up every morning in the distance, like the Excedrin headache from @#$%,” wrote David S.

The work will begin close to the school than move outward towards Harris Field and the intersection of Concord Avenue and Goden Street. Prior to the work starting, owners of 43 of approximately 76 residential structures signed up to have the exterior of their properties examined.

John Phelan, Belmont Schools Superintendent, said he and Isaac Taylor, the High School’s new principal, will be on site when the pile driving begins to monitor the noise level. But he doesn’t believe the noise or vibration will affect learning as students are adept at attending classes with up to seven MBTA commuter trains rumble adjacent to the school.

Belmont Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said residents will be provided a heads up on the start of the job via the police department’s “reverse 911” system.

[UPDATE] Water Main Break Closes Portion of Brighton Street; Repair After 6 PM

Photo: Water main break on Brighton Street.

A portion of Brighton Street was closed shortly before 11 a.m., Friday, Aug. 16 from Cross Street to Coolidge Road due to water main break, according to town officials.

According to Water Division personnel at the site, a six-inch water main installed in 1933 ruptured late in the morning, reducing pressure in the surrounding neighborhood.

While replacing the main is a routine operation, the placement of other utilities running along the pipe will likely delay a final repair until after 6 p.m.

Burnin’ For Cleo: Saturday’s Boot Camp Honors Athlete​ Memory

Photo: Poster for the event this Saturday.

Join Belmont’s Burnin’ by Ray for an outdoor workout to celebrate the life of Cleo Athena Theodoropulos this Saturday.

The “Best of Boston”-winning gym is hosting a two-hour charity outdoor boot camp at the Winn Brook Elementary School field in Belmont on Saturday, Aug. 17 at 10 a.m. to honor Cleo’s energy, kindness, fierce athletic drive and abundant spirit. 

Tickets are $25 and can be obtained here. All proceeds and donations would benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

Cleo, who was an outstanding figure skater and varsity field hockey player, was a junior at Belmont High School who died on April 22, less than one week after her diagnosis with Ewing sarcoma, due to a cancer-induced fatal stroke.

Select Board OKs 5 Year Trash Processing Contract

Photo: Trash processing will continue with Wheelabrow Technologies.

Belmont’s Select Board unanimously approved Monday, Aug. 12, a five-year extension to the town’s existing contract with a waste-to-energy firm to process Belmont’s residential trash.

The new contract with Wheelabrow Technologies, which goes into effect July 1, 2020 and runs through fiscal 2025, will see a one year increase of 10 percent from the current fiscal year, jumping from $69.54 to $77 per ton.

Despite the significant spike for the coming year – the cost increases for years two to five will be between 2.5 and 3.5 percent – Jay Marcotte, the town’s director of the Department of Public Works, said he was surprised at the bargain the town received.

“I can honestly tell you that I am surprised that the pricing. I thought it would be a lot more expensive it would be getting rid of trash” since the cost of recycling has skyrocketed in the past year.

“It’s a volitile world out there for recycling and trash,” said Marcotte.

Belmont has separate contracts for hauling trash from the curbside and recycling, each in their second of a five year contracts with Waste Management.

Marcotte said the price Belmont will pay on July 1 is comparable to those in surrounding communities such as Lexington, Wilmington and Reading. He also noted that just a decade ago, trash processing for Belmont was in the $90 to $100 per ton range.

The hit to residents’ tax bill for trash removal under the new contract should not be that hard due to the automated trash collection system installed last year, said Marcotte. While the town budget anticipated about 7,500 tons of trash processed townwide in the past two years, last fiscal year residents produced 6,200 tons, an 18 percent fall off due to automation.

“There is room for improvement,” said Marcotte.

Common Street Repaving Now Set To Begin Thursday, Aug. 15

Photo: Common Street, before.

The long-awaited repaving of Common Street is scheduled to begin on Thursday, Aug. 15.

EH Perkins Construction of Burlington will be laying asphalt on one of the town’s main thoroughfares between Payson Road and School Street. The work along the 8/10 of a mile route is expected to be completed within three workdays on Monday, Aug. 19.

During the three days, sections of Common Street will be closed to traffic between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Residents and commuters are advised to seek alternate routes. No on street parking or access to driveways will be available during construction hours. Common Street residents affected by the construction will be able to park overnight on side streets.

For any questions or concerns about the project, residents can contact Ara Yogurtian, assistant director in the Office of Community Development at 617-993-2665.

Meet Belmont Finds A New Home At Day School’s Gym

Photo: Meet Belmont is happening at the Belmont Day School.

One of the many unintended consequences of the construction of the new Belmont Middle and High School is the loss of the school’s cafeteria for out of school activities. And one of the casualties was Meet Belmont, the end-of-summer communal get together for new residents and long-time townies.

But thanks to scrambling by the Meet Belmont Planning Committee, the annual event has a new home for 2019 as the 17th Meet Belmont Community Information Fair will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 27 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Belmont Day School Gymnasium, 55 Day School Ln. off of upper Concord Avenue.

This event brings together Belmont’s nonprofit/volunteer organizations, Town government and local officials, and new and settled residents in a fully accessible and friendly environment.

You can expect to:

  • Meet local government and nonprofit leaders—approximately 80 organizations have registered as exhibitors to date
  • Discover recreation and arts programs
  • Find community organizations, volunteering and other activities
  • Participate in our democracy—register to vote
  • and support the Belmont Food Bank with your contribution of nonperishable items

This is an ideal event for anyone interested in our schools, enrichment programs, other local nonprofits, volunteering and town government. The committee encourage you to attend.