Town Meeting voters in Hingham, 1,791 of them, filled the high school’s gymnasium, auditorium and cafeteria Monday night to choose one of two alternatives to replace the school’s 58-year-old athletic fields.
The town had recently replaced its high school tennis courts and track. In the second phase of athletic infrastructure improvement, the school committee took on the much larger task of replacing the high school fields. The multi-use field – football, field hockey and other sports – poses the most significant problem.
The field floods, due to broken underground drainage structures. Football games damage its grass surface, resulting in visiting field hockey teams to refuse to play on it. That creates gender inequality. The 1954 bleachers are failing. The lack of lights means popular night games are played in other towns.
A 2011 Special Town Meeting established a committee to study the problem and present a solution. The solution – endorsed by the school committee, selectmen and the advisory committee – would replace the broken drainage structures, install an artificial turf field, replace the bleachers and install lights at a cost of $3.7 million.
Some residents objected, particularly those in the high school neighborhood. They proposed an alternative plan with a natural turf field, half the seating capacity and an absolute ban on lights at a cost of $2.7 million.
After more than an hour of debate, the alternative plan failed on a voice vote. Doubtful that the school committee plan received the needed two-thirds majority on a voice vote, the Meeting used a secret ballot method. Voters endorsed the school committee plan 1,354 to 347.
Town Meeting also approved a $90 million operating budget in less than 15 minutes with no questions, objections or modifications. Hingham Annual Town Meeting continues Tuesday night.