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Athletic Facilities Improvement Project Community Statement

Dear HW Community,

The Athletic Facilities Improvement Project has been ongoing since approximately 2012, in conjunction with the Hamilton-Wenham Recreation Master Plan which was a town-wide study of all recreation related fields and facilities.  At that time, there was a recommendation to change the HS field to synthetic turf and install a new track at the cost of approximately $1.8 million.

In 2023, more than 10 years later, we see an even higher level of field use across our school and town sites. While demand continues to grow, we continue to lose ground and send our children to other towns to use their fields and courts. Since 2012, the largest improvement made in our towns related to recreation is the pool. Many of the other sites and recommendations that have been flagged for improvement have never been touched or further explored.

Ultimately, it is a community decision to fund this project or not -- no different than the pool or other large-scale projects. Given the emails I receive and the online discussion, I believe that most people in the community agree that improvements are needed. Whether the decision is made or not to move forward with this project as outlined our student-athletes will still be playing at least half, if not more of their games on synthetic turf fields in other communities. When our fields are unplayable, we often rent field use from other communities that will be synthetic turf. While this isn't a reason to build turf fields, it is something else to think about as we move toward a decision. The safety of our students and community is a top priority and if research or legislation changes before installation we would of course consider re-evaluating the project and the materials installed.

Athletics In our District

Hamilton-Wenham is a member of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association and Cape Ann League. We offer 29 sports over three seasons for boys and girls in which over seventy-four percent of Hamilton-Wenham students participated in at least one sport. Ninety-two percent of Hamilton-Wenham teams earned the MIAA Academic Distinction and 100% have earned Sportsmanship honors. In the last year, 83% of our teams qualified for the State Tournament.

HWRHS hosts approximately 265 athletic contests on and around campus and we travel to approximately 355 athletic contests at neutral & away sites. Essentially, Athletics represents a second school day after school and on weekends and breaks.

Through the years, many of our teams have had to forfeit a home field advantage because the fields are unplayable. For the past two seasons the HS Girls’ Soccer team was unable to host a tournament game on our home fields because of unplayability. Tennis, one of the most popular sports at the HS with 70 participants, has no home court. They spend their season traveling to a number of different courts that we rent from surrounding communities. This also adds the cost of transporting the players as well. 

The Athletic Facilities Improvement Project

In early 2012, Gale Associates conducted a study, which concluded that the current grass fields throughout both towns and on the High School/Middle School campus were grossly overused. The situation was further exacerbated because the demand was so high, it prevented the fields from getting adequate “time off” to properly rest and regenerate growth.

To maximize the recreational and athletic field space in both towns and at the High School/Middle School, Gale recommended upgrading existing athletic facilities at the High School/Middle School campus as the most beneficial solution for the community. The proposed facilities included:

  • The Stadium - with a turf field and track, lights and press box, bleachers, restrooms, and ticket/concession building
  • Multi-purpose turf playing fields with lights
  • Keeping two grass rectangle fields.

Over the next several years, further renderings were completed, studies were done on wetlands, water tables, and other environmental topics. Discussions were had about the proper infill for the turf, additional amenities (e.g. scoreboards), dividing time between Youth and High School sports, the lighting design being modern, LED, non-glare, among other considerations.

Throughout 2022, discussion continued and the softball field was added because of concern of violating Title IX laws. Permitting for the main field, track and the multi-use field were also extended.

In March of 2022, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) visited for the HS accreditation process.  They noted that the Foundation Goal, Learning Resources, Does Not Meet the Standard because of the condition of facilities inside and outside of the building. Specific to the athletic facilities, page 29 of the report, states: 

The athletic facilities, specifically the external components, including the stadium field, track, baseball/softball fields, and practice spaces, are in grave disrepair and woefully inadequate for the student needs. A community/school partnership has been forming for over a decade. Still, it has resulted in little movement in terms of added financial support or political will from the communities to take on a project of this size. While the current physical education and athletic departments work to positively motivate and engage nearly 70 percent of the student body to participate in extracurricular athletic activities, these events are often forced off-site due to the lack of appropriate or acceptable spaces. These off-site moves come with an incurred cost for transportation and facilities rentals that are passed down to the student-athletes and their families through adjusted user fees.

Finally, in high-use outdoor seasons (end of spring and early fall), games and events initially scheduled to be at the school, such as MIAA tournament games, are moved to the off-site facility because the fields are not safe for athletes and at a cost to the school district. Because the fields were unusable for home games, there is a sense of the loss of home-field advantage and school spirit built when having home games. This demoralizes the student-athletes' outlook on the contest and negatively impacts their overall perception of their school.”

The current version of the Athletic Facilities Improvement Project is designed to alleviate the following issues that exist across both towns:

  • Bring as many HWRSD teams as possible that are practicing practicing and/or competing off campus back to the High School/Middle School to practice and play on campus
  • Relieve pressure on town parks and fields
  • Return town parks to their original intended purpose, recreation, and light activity for the community generally.
  • Enhance the youth and community athletic experience
  • Address NEASC critical school facility needs for High School accreditation
  • Build community pride and attraction for families

Concerns of Cost

Since 2012, cost has been a consistent issue in the eyes of the community. In 2015 the cost of the project designed at that time was approximately 7.5 million dollars. Waiting continues to make this project more expensive due to the impact of inflation. We have tried to reduce the cost by taking advantage of opportunities within the school budget, local Community Preservation Committee (CPC) grants and private donations.

The project is currently estimated to be $15,000,000.00 to complete.  The school district has been working with boards from each of the towns to find ways to reduce the overall cost and ultimately the impact to the taxpayers.  There are several ways to reduce the costs that require a vote at the Town Meetings:

  1. Approval of a transfer of $1,689,000.00 from excess and deficiency to the school department stabilization fund. This is part of the school department budget for FY24.
  2. Community Preservation Committee (CPC) grant from the town of Hamilton CPC. We have received initial approval for $800,000.00 from the committee which will require approval at Town Meeting. To release this funding, there is a required match by the Wenham CPC.
  3. Community Preservation Committee (CPC) grant from the town of Wenham CPC. We have received initial approval for $400,000.00 from the committee which will require approval at Town Meeting. This is the match that will release all of the funds from both CPCs.
  4. Private donations.  Currently, there is a community group, the Hamilton-Wenham Athletic Facilities Improvement Committee (HWAFIC) that is an approved 501c3 working to further reduce the costs of the project by as much as $2,000,000.00 by soliciting donations for the project. It is important to note that many of the members of this group have been working on this project for more than 10 years.

One other potential source, a $500,000 fund known as the Patton Homestead Fund, was set aside many years ago to be used specifically for a field project. The release of this money is contingent on the usual match (based on the Regional School District Assessment formula) by the Town of Wenham. As of this writing, the Town of Wenham is unable to match the funds. I have been told that the Town of Hamilton will use the funds to specifically offset their share of any debt related to the Athletic Facilities Improvement Project. 

If everything listed in items 1-3 above is approved at both Town Meetings and where required, at the ballot, we can offset the cost by $2,889,000.00. An additional $2,000,000.00 in donations could bring the cost to taxpayers under $10,500,000.00. The plan is to begin construction in March 2024 with an expected completion of major portions by November of 2024. For weather-related  reasons, items like landscaping may not be able to be completed until the spring of 2025.

Other Concerns Within the HW Community

Cost is not the only concern in our HW community. Several people have raised the issues of PFAS (forever chemicals), microplastics, increased field temperatures during the summer, and eventual disposal of the old turf surface in 10 -14 years.

First, it is important for me to note that I am not a scientist or expert in the environment. I am merely trying to be sure as much information as possible is available when a decision is made.  It is also important to note that there are no regulations related to the installation of synthetic turf. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “The per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. Fluoropolymer coatings can be in a variety of products. These include clothing, furniture, adhesives, food packaging, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces, and the insulation of electrical wire.” 

I have recently seen an increase in the number of articles written that raise the issue of PFAS or forever chemicals. In some cases, communities like Boston have moved to stop installing new turf fields.  As of today, the City of Boston has over 20 synthetic turf fields and is  currently replacing at least one. 

My limited research and reading show that the majority of interest and testing of materials as a source of PFAS is heavily focused on crumb rubber infill. However, there are studies that are also examining plastic grass blades as well. Crumb Rubber is the infill that has been used in synthetic turf fields. It is essentially ground-up rubber tires. Much of the literature available is specifically focused on crumb rubber as an area of concern for PFAS exposure and leaching. The turf industry has continued to defend the use of crumb rubber by equating the issue to the idea that automobile tires wear down over time and those small particles increase on our roadways every day. They claim, once it rains, these particles are washed into the roadside and surrounding lakes, ponds, and streams.

Crumb rubber is one of many infills available to be used in the construction of the turf field. The infill material is commonly used with sand to hold up the synthetic grass blades and as a shock absorber.  The infills I have been able to find online include, crumb rubber, acrylic-coated sand, thermoplastic elastomers (TPE), recycled athletic footwear, EPDM Rubber, and organics including walnut shells, cork, and coconut fibers. Each has its advantages and disadvantages including cost differences. Locally, our CAL school infills breakdown as follows:


Year Installed 

Type of Infill



NA - No Turf Field

Essex Tech


Crumb Rubber



Crumb Rubber



Envirofill - Anti-microbial silica-coated sand 

(shock pad installed underneath)



Crumb Rubber

Manchester Essex


Ground rubber



Envirofill - Anti-microbial silica-coated sand 

(shock pad installed underneath)

North Reading


Did not respond to inquiries



Crumb Rubber



NA - No Turf Field



Crumb Rubber


We are looking at alternatives to crumb rubber. Two local communities are using envirofill which has been found to be non-toxic. Another alternative is Brockfill which is sustainable harvested wood. Brockfill can reduce the heat on the field by 30 or more degrees in the warmer weather, unlike many of the other rubber based options. Either of these may be an acceptable alternative, but we will continue to work with our designer to examine and understand all options.

In a document submitted to the Hamilton Conservation Commission for our project, the designer, Gale, requires that “The General Contractor/Turf Supplier is required to conduct 3rd party testing for selected perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) for the turf and infill to be installed, and provide written certification that they meet the regulated PFAs limits in the installed materials or that no PFAS are identified in the products.

An Athletic Turf Field (ATF) FAQ document published by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health/Bureau of Environmental Health states, “To date, scientific research mostly concludes that adverse health effects from using ATF are unlikely. It is important to note that no studies have specifically evaluated whether there is a relationship between disease outcomes and exposure to crumb rubber in ATF.” 

Organics vs Synthetic Turf

Currently the HS/MS campus has all grass fields.  These fields exist in various states including being undersized for competition, only to be used for practice. What people see first when they come to watch a game or event is the main field with the track. Throughout the years, this field has been rendered unplayable because of overuse by early October forcing us to cancel games or to send our teams to fields in other communities that we rent and pay to bus students. 

Given the start of the athletic season in the spring (this year March 20th), there is also no time to rest the field and regrow grass. We currently aerate, overseed, and fertilize as part of our upkeep, but the over use simply does not allow grass to grow. Are fertilizers negatively impacting the area around the fields? To my knowledge, it has never been a topic of discussion. Watering is also an issue when bans are in effect. We do, however, ask for permission to continue watering, especially during the summer months when the field is used the least. We do not have enough fields throughout our community to allow the "rest & rotation" of fields required to keep organic fields in playable conditions.

Other communities have chosen to install organic fields. Places like Marblehead and Springfield have been touted as models, yet each of these communities still has synthetic turf fields to support overuse and regular field shut downs. A check of Marblehead’s recreation website currently shows that all town fields are “closed for the season,” which is a natural response to field maintenance, but also forcing athletics to take advantage of their synthetic turf field as the Spring season begins. If we installed organic fields it will be 3 full seasons after installation before it is acceptable to be played upon.

Our schools and fields are in poor overall condition. As we move forward, we must continue to improve and update our schools and related facilities to meet the expectations of our families, meet the needs of the future of our students, and keep students and their families in our schools. No matter the decision, our fields and facilities should serve as a point of pride for our community. 


Eric Tracy


Useful Articles, Websites and Studies 

(This is not an exhaustive list. An in-depth Google search will produce many more):

Athletic and Recreation Facilities Condition Assessment Report for Hamilton and Wenham - 2012 and Accompanying Presentation.

HWRSD Athletic Facilities Improvement Project Website

Massachusetts Website on Artificial Turf Fields

Massachusetts Department of Public Health/Bureau of Environmental Health - Athletic Turf Field (ATF) FAQ 

Environmental Protection Agency - PFAS Explained 

Environmental Protection Agency - Increasing Our Understanding of the Health Risks from PFAS and How to Address Them - 

Gale - Natural V. Synthetic Turf Fields 

GALE - Submission to Hamilton Conservation Commission that includes PFAS information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) Factsheet

MA Department of Environmental Protection - Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Environmental Protection Agency- Tire Crumb Questions and Answers

(TURI) - UMASS Lowell - Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI)  and  Athletic Playing Fields 

Collaborative for Health and the Environment - Environmental Health Impacts of Synthetic Turf and Safer Alternatives

WGBH - More games or more grass fields? Turf wars play out across Massachusetts

Synthetic Turf Council - FAQ Page

Sports Illustrated - NFLPA President Calls for Immediate Changes to Fields Amid Injury Concerns

Why the Titans Are Switching to Turf at Nissan Stadium Starting in 2023

The Hill - The science is in — EPA, end the debate on turf safety

TRC - Evaluation of PFAS In Synthetic Turf Fields - Portsmouth NH 2022

Tabor Academy - Synthetic Turf Field Evaluation

Gale Presentation - Alternative Synthetic Field Infills



graphic of the proposed athletic facilities improvement project