OUT OF THE MORASS, A TURF FIELD EMERGES

After listening to the criticisms of determined students, the administration has wisely decided to make Upper Cole Field a “last resort” for the proposed Turf Field. The decision will allow the College to accomplish two important goals: building a turf field for varsity sports while protecting and improving intramural (IM) sports, as demanded by the administration last Spring. Needless to say, the original location on Upper Cole Field left questions as to whether both goals could be achieved: Short of searching for and building new fields around campus and seriously rearranging the field usage schedule for Lower Cole, IM and club sports would have lost the majority of their field space on Upper Cole during the Fall IM season.

The decision to consider Bobby Coombs Baseball Field appears to benefit all parties – the three varsity teams who need the turf; the varsity men’s baseball team, which currently plays on a field rendered unusable by Spring rains for much of their season; IM sports; club Frisbee and, potentially, the Town. IM and club sports, exclusively, will retain Upper Cole. Further, there should be fewer Town objections to lights on Weston Field than there were on Upper Cole. Finally, the entire community will benefit because Upper Cole will be retained as the last large, open green space on campus. Aesthetically, Weston, which already has a football field, track, permanent stands and the College’s power plant in the background, serves as a much better location for the turf.

The failed process which allowed the turf field project to spiral out of control and reach its current status is important to learn from. Two departments, Buildings and Grounds (B&G) and Athletics, were involved in the original planning process. B&G had to choose a viable site within the allotted budget and Athletics had to decide whether IM sports would benefit. Without a broader understanding of the implications of choosing Upper Cole – which is not its responsibility – B&G picked the location because it met budgetary and field-size constraints. In the process, B&G apparently dismissed Coombs as a possible location, erroneously writing in an April 18, 2003 report to the CPR that the area was located in a flood plain.

In addition, between last Spring and this Fall, the orientation of the proposed field changed because of apparent glare issues. What was never clearly conveyed to Senior Staff, though, was that the new layout consumed all four IM Frisbee fields on Upper Cole and restricted IM soccer play as well. Not only did the fields disappear, but the Athletics Department also never initiated conversations with either club presidents or IM coordinators. Also, until after the zoning board meeting, the Athletics Department was unwilling to reallocate the vacated field hockey space on Lower Cole or the baseball outfield in the Fall.

The proposed Upper Cole turf field, en route to construction with no contingencies for IM sports, seemed like an unstoppable varsity athletics juggernaut. The failure of communication was either an honest error by the Athletics Department or – as is widely believed by many students, faculty and administrators – a grab for field space while disregarding the effects on IM and club sports.

The donors, comprised mainly of lacrosse alums and parents of current players (including a number of seniors), added more pressure to have the field built by Feb. 15, in time for the start of the Spring lacrosse season. As late as last week, construction was slated to begin on Upper Cole on Oct. 20. The zoning board meeting, however, provided the forum for student frustrations to boil over and ultimately suspend the building process.

Had B&G taken a closer look at Weston, perhaps this entire crisis could have been avoided as early as last Spring. More importantly, however, a field space compromise between varsity and IM sports was not going to work itself out on Upper Cole; with no obvious administrator representing IM interests, leadership was necessary, but nonexistent, from the Athletics Department. This lack of leadership only exacerbates questions about the Athletic Department’s commitment to both varsity and non-varsity athletes on campus.

On the other hand, President Schapiro should be given enormous credit for yesterday’s decision. With the responsibility of managing the College’s ambitious $400 million capital campaign and the risk of upsetting potential donors, Schapiro faced great political pressures. He and Senior Staff, however, reviewed their options and ultimately avoided a rush to judgment. They now have an opportunity to find a solution that will benefit everyone. The College needs continuing leadership of this caliber as the capital campaign moves forward.