Rochester ORR vote is final step for project
ROCHESTER — Rochester voters will go to the polls on July 10 to cast the decisive vote on a $2 million Old Rochester Regional fields and auditorium restoration project that has been four years in the making.
The special election, with polls open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Council on Aging, 67 Dexter Lane, asks voters to approve a Proposition 2-1/2 override that would increase taxes in Rochester, Marion and Mattapoisett until money borrowed for the project is repaid.
Included in the project is a new synthetic field, a resurfaced track and new infield, LED auditorium lights and new sound system wiring.
A "yes" vote in Rochester would see construction start this fall or spring with likely completion within a year of the vote.
All three towns approved the project at their spring Town Meetings, with Marion and Mattapoisett going on to approve it at annual town elections. Because Rochester holds its town elections before its Town Meeting, a town vote required scheduling Wednesday's special election.
“This school grounds is the most-used part of the tri-town, year-round, and the wear and tear is starting to show,” said Cary Humphrey, chair of the school committee, adding that the wear can be dangerous for students and “a safe and secure place to go to school includes the facilities. And that doesn’t have to be the boiler.”
It has been a long road for advocates of improved ORR fields.
In 2015, a non-profit organization called Tri-town Unified Recreational Facilities (or T.U.R.F) began to address Old Rochester Regional athletic facilities.
“Every day brings a diverse group of students and community members together... The fields at the high school have not been upgraded since the school's 2000 addition, and the facility is showing its age,” the group wrote on its website.
In the fall of 2016, the group lead a fundraising effort to hire athletic facility design firm Kaestle Boos Associates to work on plans for new facilities.
In the spring of 2018, after additional planning and fundraising, the T.U.R.F. group met with both school and town administrators to present an initial plan.
That plan would have cost $5 million and included installation of two synthetic turf fields, a new track, two new grass fields, an athletic building with a concession stand, storage and bathrooms.
Town officials in Mattapoisett were not pleased with the idea of the town funding the project, since school groups would get precedence on the field.
“The school committee needs to come to us and say ‘we figured out a program and this is how it’s going to work,’” Mattapoisett Selectman Tyler Macallister said in June 2017. “I think it’s one hundred percent on the school committee to get it done.”
In January 2019, the facilities subcommittee, which served as a liason to the school committee for the project, presented a revised version of the plan to the school committee.
The new plan cut the building and grass fields in the original plan, focusing on areas that needed the most work.
Limiting the project’s scope cut its cost down to $2 million. Project advocates calculate that, based on average house costs, that would amount to $25.11 for the first year in Marion, $19.57 in Mattapoisett and $34.39 for the first year in Rochester.
Project advocates have said that because of how the project’s financing works “in subsequent years, this amount will not increase, but could decrease based upon the financing plan.”
Town administrators requested that the school committee not act on the proposal until later, so it would come up for consideration at spring Town Meetings. When the school committee did vote on the project in March 2019, the group approved it unanimously.
Also in March, a second citizen group, Restore ORR, started to promote the project.
At Town Meetings, advocates and those against the project both spoke out.
Mattapoisett Finance Committee Chair Pat Donoghue worried about the project’s life span. “Until I see something in writing from the company or the manufacturer that says it’s really gonna last at least 20 years, I’m not going to be comfortable financing over 15,” said Donoghue, “We don’t do debt on assets that are going to deteriorate over time.”
Marion’s Stephen Health, supported the project. “Maintenance that has been done or not been done [on the current field] is not going to fix that field. That field is going to be dangerous as long as it is grass. The field that is proposed is going to be safer, less maintenance costs. I wouldn’t worry about it going away in 15 years.”
Absentee ballots for the Wednesday election are available in the Town Clerk’s office at the Rochester Town Hall.
Absentee ballots can be filled out in person at the clerk’s office. Immediate family members may also mail ballots from Town Hall to absentee voters. Ballots cannot be taken from Town Hall by hand.
If approved, the goal would be to complete the lighting this fall, and the outdoor field and track this fall or in the spring after the ground thaws.
Memebers of both the ORR school committee and town committees say the process has taught them how to communicate better. At a May 22 School Committee meeting, members acknowledged that they had never had to do so much community outreach.
“One thing that I’ve felt has been missing has been communication between our committee and the three towns. We didn’t feel like we had a lot of support in the auditorium [at Mattapoisett Town Meeting]. But, since then I’ve had a really good and productive conversation with Mike Gagne the Town Administrator that I feel like is going to push us in the right direction,” said Cary Humphrey, Chair of the School Committee. He appreciated the way that the process got him “getting to know people, get to trust people, learning from people.”