- What is the history of this project?
- Why is the Project Necessary?
- Why is it important to bring our High School sports back on campus?
- What is the Working Group Studying?
- Who will decide the final scope of the project?
- What is the expected cost of the project?
- How will the project be financed?
- Is the project a capital spending priority for the HWRSD?
- What is the anticipated timeline for the Project?
- How will the Project disrupt the School District?
- Will youth sports and town residents have access to the Athletic Facilities?
- What is the expected life of the Project?
- What are the options for turf?
- Will the Project provide revenue opportunities?
- Will there be any impact to the project adventure course?
- How can I help?
What is the history of this project?
About ten years ago, a group of community members, with support from HWRSD and the Hamilton Wenham Recreation Board, commissioned a study to determine how to maximize all the field space in both Hamilton and Wenham (on and off of the high school campus) for the use by sports teams at all levels.
The group had two primary goals:
- Bring as many HWRSD teams as possible that were practicing and/or competing off campus back to the High School/Middle School to practice and play on campus; and
- Return town parks to their original intended purpose, recreation and light activity for the community generally.
Gale Associates conducted the 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 sporting 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;
- Other turf playing fields with lights; and
- 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, and lighting design and impact on neighbors, among other considerations.
The group obtained initial permits roughly seven years ago, which included noise and light, and drafted more formal documents describing the anticipated sharing of fields between school and youth sports.
- The initial permitting included all possible amenities, thinking it was better to be over inclusive, in the event more money or donations were realized in the future to add new items to the project - such as a new scoreboard, for example.
- By including everything that could possibly be a part of the project in the initial permitting and development process, the group thought it was better to permit for all items now, just in case the items made it to the “final” project - as opposed to reaching the final project, having found the ability to add certain amenities, but not having any of the permitting in place.
After obtaining the initial permits, the group began promoting the project publicly. Unfortunately, because the project’s estimated cost included all of the possible amenities, the community generally reacted poorly. The project then stalled for several years.
The project was jump started in 2019 after a re-prioritization of capital priorities from the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School Committee and District Administration. Connections were re-established with interested parties from town and the project slowly but surely re-gained momentum.
- During this revitalization, the group added scope to the project by including tennis courts and the softball field - both of which the Athletic Department had been expressing a need to be included for years.
- During the original project development, HWRSD did not have a softball team, thus no softball field was included in the original plans. (The current field at the Middle School was actually donated by the Hamilton Wenham Little League and converted into a softball field). Now part of the fabric of High School sports, if the softball field were not included in the project, there is a real concern for creating Title IX issues for the HWRSD.
- During the original project development, and up until about five years ago, the tennis teams (boys and girls) were smaller (roughly 30-35 students) and practiced/played at the courts in Pingree and Patton Parks. After years of costly and constant repairs, the courts at Pingree were deemed unsafe and unplayable, and the courts at Patton insufficient for the current number of tennis players - which has only continued to grow (now numbering over 70). As a result, both girls and boys tennis must practice and play off campus and out of town, costing tens of thousands of dollars for court rentals and transportation over the years.
- With renewed momentum, work was begun to complete a Memorandum of Understanding to outline the project and express an interest to finally complete it.
On April 7, 2021, the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District School Committee voted to establish the Athletic Facilities Improvement Project Steering Committee to oversee the planning and subsequent construction of major improvements to the Middle School/High School outdoor athletic facilities. These facilities, all located behind the Middle School/High School would include:
- Artificial turf fields for football, baseball, and softball;
- Grass multi-purpose fields for soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey;
- Upgraded facilities for pole vault, high jump, long jump, discus, javelin, and shot put;
- Four new tennis courts; new home and spectator stands
- New running track;
- Fencing, lights, and several associated buildings for storage, concessions, and rest rooms.
The Steering Committee/Working Group is working with the engineering/consulting firm of Gale Associates who prepared a Master Plan report in 2015. Recommendations on publication, fundraising, design, and construction phasing will be made to the School Committee for their final decisions.
In May 2021, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the School Committee and the Towns United for Recreational Fields (TURF) fundraising group establishing them as the approved fundraising group for the project. The TURF  group will have 501 (c)(3) nonprofit status. In April 2022, the Working Group developed a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) to provide initial information to interested parties regarding the status of the project. The plan is that this would be a “living document” that would be updated as necessary to keep everyone informed.
The School Committee was updated on the project on June 16, 2022 on the status of the project and the Working Group’s current efforts. The School Committee gave their unanimous support to the Project.
Why is the Project Necessary?
Our current High School/Middle School athletic facilities are well beyond their useful life. The Stadium Field and the Back Fields were constructed when the High School opened in the 1960s, and the Softball field was constructed as a Little League field in 1998, and updated to a Softball field in 2014.
None of the fields have been significantly updated since 1998, when the Middle School was constructed. Some areas have deteriorated so badly, despite regular maintenance, that they are unsafe and unplayable at times - such as the Baseball Field and Stadium Field for soccer. Even the “playable” facilities have significant drainage, leveling, fencing, and structural issues, and are entirely inadequate for modern competition.
Prior stop-gap measures have also exhausted, monopolized, and degraded town recreational and youth sports facilities. For example, the tennis team used courts in Wenham for a time, taking time away from the community, and even those courts are no longer usable. Soccer, field hockey, and baseball use field space at Patton, Pingree, the Library, and Donovan, among others, often displacing youth sports, town recreation opportunities and over-using and damaging the fields.
Further, any stop-gap measure that moves students to fields off campus creates added time for students and coaches “commuting” and increases risks to athletes by playing on fields not under HWRSD’s control, and does not foster school pride or a sense of community.
Adding turf fields, specifically, will also significantly reduce lost playing and practice time due to weather, as well as reduce the reliance on outdoor teams to use already crowded indoor space (e.g. the gym).
Our athletic facilities are demonstratively the most out of date and degraded in the entire Cape Ann League, and most if not all of the North Shore. For example, in the eleven team, Cape Ann League:
- 10 schools have lights for their athletic fields;
- 9 schools have tennis courts; and
- 8 schools have turf fields for multi-sport use.
Hamilton-Wenham is the ONLY Cape Ann League school with NONE of these three centerpieces for modern high school athletics.
Why is it important to bring our High School sports back on campus?
Learning, Experience, Safety, Pride, Success.
Participation in team and community activities are an essential part of a student’s education and maturation. The ability for students to consistently use a multitude of fields together, even if not for the same activity, builds a sense of community and pride. Removing current obstacles and distractions that come with constantly worrying about field conditions, constantly relocating practices and games, constantly worrying about transportation, and adding commuting time to simply attend events, all contribute to more time actually participating and focusing on the event at hand. With that focus, brings more consistent and uninterrupted practice time with teammates and coaches. This is where “the experience” schools are looking to create comes in. It is not on game day. It is in the little moments where coaches, who will often be the single biggest influences in a young person’s life other than their parents, take place. Individuals and groups pushing themselves beyond what they thought was possible, growth as young adults, learning collaboration, overcoming adversity. This happens through consistent practice time - whether in sports, the arts, or academics.
Importantly, athletic fields are not just for high school athletes. The Pep Band takes immense pride playing during football games, and would greatly benefit from a renewed atmosphere and stadium to play in. Physical education classes utilize the track and project adventure course, which contribute to the success of many non-high school athletes learning about physical education and taking pride in their school and facilities. Simply attending sporting events as a friend or fan - whether softball, lacrosse, tennis, or football - fosters a sense of community and interpersonal interactions that cannot be taught or manufactured. And, whether to eat lunch outside, take a break, or hold a class in good weather - there are a myriad of reasons why excellent outdoor spaces enhance the overall student (and faculty and parent) experience.
- Not coincidentally, team success (and community pride) comes from consistent practice and interaction.
- More sports on campus means more teams and students in a safe and controlled environment, with access to a trainer, bathrooms, additional coaches/adults as needed.
- More activities at the High School means less activities taking place on town fields that were never intended for that level of use and freeing up the spaces for other town events.
- Avoiding off campus practice eliminates the high cost to the psyche of our student athletes and their parents, where their children are constantly being asked to commute to a sterile environment, devoid of school community-based spirit. This is a consistently communicated reason why parents move their children to area private schools with better facilities and school as a community-based spirit.
- Turf fields significantly help reduce the need for outdoor sports to cancel practices or games for rain and reduce the need to use indoor space that may already be dedicated to other sports or activities.
- Updated fields will, by definition, conform to size regulations and provide a much safer and consistent playing surface.
- Athletics are also the single most visible part of a school district. They are a tremendous asset (or detriment) for “recruiting” new families to our communities, enticing old families to stay, and critically, keeping their children in our fantastic public schools.
What is the Working Group Studying?
The Working Group, along with Gale Associates (a civil engineering firm), is preparing design and budget options for a significant upgrade to the current HWRSD High School/Middle School athletic facilities. This would include a new stadium area with turf field and track, press box, restrooms/amenities building, and concession/ticket building; tennis courts, a turf softball field, and a large turf practice area capable of accommodating baseball, soccer, field hockey, football, lacrosse, and other uses on regulation-sized fields. Lights are also being considered for all playing surfaces (except tennis), as well as egress and safety lighting.
Gale will also provide options for phased construction, in the event the best decision is to scale back the scope of the Project to certain items, or spread construction out over time. These decisions will be highly dependent on expected cost and available funding sources.
Who will decide the final scope of the project?
- All decisions, including the scope of the Project, will be decided by the Hamilton and Wenham communities.
- The Working Group, in partnership with many other community stakeholders, will work through the various issues described below, and others likely to arise, and issue a recommended course of action to all stakeholders.
- The first “formal” approval for the scope of the Project, must come from the School Committee. As part of its diligence, the School Committee will work with the Working Group and representatives from a host of community stakeholders (for example: the Town Select Boards; the Town Community Preservation Committees; the Town Finance Committees; School Administration; High School and Youth Sports, Hamilton Wenham Recreation Department and Departments of Public Works - among others) to determine the scope.
What is the expected cost of the project?
The estimated cost is approximately $15M for the full scope of the project. The estimated budget includes typical construction and design contingencies to provide as accurate a financial picture as possible.
The estimated budget is preliminary. As with any large-scale project, costs can fluctuate significantly over the life of finalizing the project, depending on a number of factors - including actual bids received and supply costs. The final cost of the project will also be determined in large part by the available funding for the project and decisions about phasing. These projections will be constantly updated as information is received throughout the development of the project.
Possible offsets to the cost:
$1,698,000 Stabilization Fund Transfer Request
$500,000 Patton Homestead Fund (Hamilton)
$250,000 Patton Homestead Match (Wenham)
$800,000 Community Preservation Funds from Hamilton (approved)
$400,000 Community Preservation Funds from Wenham (not approved)
$500,000 - $2,000,000 donations HWAFIC
How will the project be financed?
Appropriately funding the Project may be the most important element, as it impacts so many aspects of the Hamilton and Wenham communities. Working with the various stakeholders described above, the Working Group will bring forth a recommendation for this Project that seriously considers and incorporates the needs of Hamilton and Wenham now and in the future. As such, major financial considerations such as tax rates, town operating budgets, school budgets, the elementary school construction project, and other municipal capital projects will be contemplated.
All funding options will be considered, and the Working Group welcomes additional suggestions. While every option has its own limitations, some of the more prominent options to be explored are:
Private fundraising, including naming rights and advertisements;
Incorporation into the HWRSD Capital Budget;
Recreational Fields Stabilization Fund (Established by the Town of Hamilton for the purpose of funding recreational fields and all incidental and related costs)
Use of Community Preservation Funds for appropriate aspects;
Potential youth sports surcharges and rental fees.
Is the project a capital spending priority for the HWRSD?
Yes. The Project is a major priority for the District. Our community is speaking very, very loudly. Over the last ten years, the population of our High School has seen a significant decline in enrollment. Community members are routinely citing the poor conditions of our athletic facilities as a reason. While this is particularly true for Varsity-caliber athletes, it is equally true for other athletes and non-athlete students who feel HWRSD does not take pride in its High School/Middle School campus, and who want a better overall experience of a positive campus atmosphere for learning and having a fun and fulfilling the high school/middle school experience.
Declining enrollment leads to less State funding and can limit programming and course offerings at our High School/Middle School.
Additionally, it is critically important that our High School maintain New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation. NEASC has already expressed concern over our facilities, and is expected to do so even more severely at the next review, hopefully not yet removing accreditation entirely.
Accreditation is essential for our students to be seen by colleges and universities as graduating from a high performing high school. Some will not accept students at all if their high school is not accredited. Further, state funding for other necessary building projects may be delayed or effectively reduced until accreditation is restored.
What is the anticipated timeline for the Project?
If approved and fully funded, a full-scope Project could be completed as early as the Fall of 2024. Of course, this timeline assumes the achievement of a number of milestones, from agreement on scope and financing, to permitting and School Committee/Town Meeting approvals - in addition to weather, supply chain, and COVID related possible obstacles, among others. As the Project progresses, the time-frame for completion should become much more clear.
How will the Project disrupt the School District?
The Project will create various states and stages of disruption at the High School and Middle School throughout its progress. The Athletic Department, Coaches, and School Administrators are aware of the logistical challenges the Project will create, and will develop plans to minimize the impact to our students, student-athletes, parents and community members. Other school districts have encountered similar logistical issues during major facilities projects, and have successfully navigated them. As such, other Cape Ann League school districts are empathetic to the problem, and are very willing to help accommodate, as HWRSD has for other school districts in the past.
Depending on the ultimate scope of the Project, and whether there are phased aspects, inevitably, some teams will need to practice and/or play off-site for their entire season. It is possible this could happen for the same teams (Fall sports, for example) for two consecutive seasons - although the hope is only one season for each team would be severely impacted. Transporting students to and from sites off-campus will also cost more money, and may cause other logistical issues due to the well-known bus driver shortage.
Fans and parents will also be impacted. It will be more difficult to watch games off campus. It will be more difficult to celebrate Seniors and significant victories, and it will be harder to achieve a “home field advantage” with fan spirit and other intangibles.
Will youth sports and town residents have access to the Athletic Facilities?
The simple answer is Yes! This Project is not just for the High School and Middle School, but for town youth sports and the public as well - our entire community!
While there must be scheduling considerations for any facilities located on a school campus, the Athletic Department will work closely with town youth sports organizations and the Hamilton Wenham Recreation Department to fully utilize the available space and preserve opportunities for public use, while maintaining the property. The fields will become regular homes to youth sports games and practices, and consistently available to the public for enjoyment and recreation.
What is the expected life of the Project?
The life expectancy will be different for each aspect of the Project, and depend on final scope and chosen materials. Generally, the site work and drainage needed should last decades, with regular maintenance. Turf fields can last from 8-14+ years, depending on type and maintenance. With site work already completed, replacing only the turf when needed is a much simpler and less expensive process than initial construction. Tennis courts typically last 25+ years with proper maintenance. The track surface and facilities can be expected to last 20-30+ years with proper maintenance. Lights and fences typically last 25+ years. The bleachers/restrooms/amenities building can be expected to last 50+ years.
What are the options for turf?
There are many infill products available for artificial turf fields. Silica sand, Z-Cap, and TPE are just some of the examples.
Gale Associates will provide a recommended infill, and help provide information on the different available products.
More detail on various turf products and their safety can be found on these websites:
Will the Project provide revenue opportunities?
Will there be any impact to the project adventure course?
How can I help?
Stay involved and share your ideas.
There will be many opportunities to share ideas and make suggestions to Town Boards and Committees, at Town Meeting, and with the Working Group.
Volunteer your time.
As the Project evolves, we will need help promoting and supporting the Project on social media and elsewhere, and working through the process despite challenges with a positive attitude for our kids to keep them excited about the Project.
Stay up to date.