Social and Political Commentary

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New High School running track has neither spectator stands nor showers

... a gorgeous facility that lacks key features of the old High School track that it is replacing.

by Joe Sullivan

Malden-Melrose running track will replace track at Melrose High School Field.

City Planner Denise Gaffey, in explaining construction delays in the new running track at Pine Banks, told Melrose Patch reporter Dan Demania last May that the project was on schedule for an opening on November 15. The new track was to replace the one that had been historically located at the Melrose High School football field. T

The new artificial-turf football field along with its new spectator stands would not accommodate space previously used for the running track at Melrose High School field.

A visit to the Pine Banks site found that the new track is almost ready and is a beautiful facility. A December 17 telephone conversation with Joan Bell, the cityís Superintendent of Parks, confirmed that the track is almost ready, but she couldnít give an opening date.

There are a few things that needed to be completed, the Superintendent said. The parking area and storage facilities need to be finished, and responsibility for running track equipment such as starting blocks needs to be sorted out with Malden. The new running track will be shared with Malden.

Bell confirmed a couple of other things, too, and they are disturbing. First, there are no showers for the runners, and, second, there are no viewing stands to accommodate those who attend track meets.

Former track had grandstands

Asked why there would be no viewing stands, the Superintendent said viewing stands at the Pine Banks location were never planned for any sports. (Track spectators sat in the same stands used to watch football games at Melrose High.)

Track meets, like football games  are competitive sports  that are meant to be watched. Itís not just something young athletes want. Even professional football players have expressed delight with Sunday night football games, because they are played before a national TV audience. Having some one watch you play is part of the thrill of competing. Track meets are not intended to be run in secret.

The new athletic field complex is coming at the expense of the track team kids being shipped out to Pine Banks for practice and meets. Being able to shower after running in a meet in June is a need not a benefit. There is nothing at the new track that satisfies this basic requirement.

How could anyone approve building a running track that cost almost $2 million with such major drawbacks? Wonít adults, like the parents of the track team kids, object when they see what their kids will be giving up?

Slam-dunk approval blocks public participation

Not if you get the approval fast. Mayor Dolan presented the plan for an ďAthletic Field ComplexĒ at his press conference on the morning of October 4, 2010. The deeply flawed running track was part of the plan. The Board of Aldermen approved the plan only hours later on the evening of the same day.

How do you get people who would be adversely affected from objecting to the privations imposed by the running track plan? Apparently you do what our city government did. You donít give them an opportunity to see the plan or even know there is such a plan in the making.

An examination of the mayorís press conference document shows that it included a graphic of the Project Site Plan which included the proposed new running track. The running track shows no provisions for viewing stands. The graphic plan also shows a date of July, 2010.

Note July date in bottom right-hand corner of Project Site Plan that was part of Mayor Dolan's presentation on October 4.  

A plan that had been completed in July was not made public until three months later. Questions would have been raised, such as: Why the absence of the viewing stands? Why do we need a new running track? Why is it located at Pine Banks and not in Melrose? How much would it cost and how would we pay for it?

The new track was needed, because new ball fields were planned for the High School site. Unlike the old field which it was replacing, the new one could not accommodate a running track. The new ball fields were the last thing the city would want to reveal in July. Necessary approvals from the Park Commission and Board of Aldermen to even develop such a plan for the ball fields hadnít taken place.

This approval process, fraught with manipulation and misrepresentation, didnít even begin until September 23, 2010. The Aldermen didnít approve the funding for a feasibility study until September 30.  The Mayor announced a fully completed plan including the running track at Pine Banks and the new ball fields at Melrose High on October 4. He called it an Athletic Field Complex.  

Common sense dictates that a plan costing more than $5 million cannot be developed between September 30 and October 4. A reasonable conclusion is that the plan for the new ball fields at the High School, like the plans for the running track, were completed long before they were announced.

Reason for the secrets? Money

Whatever the schedule, the Aldermen knew when they approved the Athletic Field Complex plan on October 4 that it would deprive the track team kids of the viewing stands.

The process used by our city government to approve the Athletic Field Complex concealed its intentions from anyone who would be directly affected.

The above story shows what happened with the implementation of the athletic field complex, but it is not clear as to why it happened. Why was it necessary to keep the plans so secret? The City didnít go through its secret drills just to fool somebody.

The secret at the heart of the furtive approval process dealt with the funding of the Athletic Field Complex. What was concealed until October 4 was the plan to pay for the complex with Mount Hood golf course money. It was the night of October 4 that the Aldermen voted to approve the ďSpecial LegislationĒ which  would be sent on to be approved by the State Legislature as well as the Governor to allow the city to take the Mount Hood money. The Mount Hood golf community would be the source of all the money.

The Special Legislation that the Aldermen approved concealed something else, too. The first sentence of the legislation says, in effect, that no matter what it says in Chapter 124 of the Massachusetts General Laws that the city can take any money thatís left once the costs of running the golf course are paid.

Chapter 124 was written in 1936 to establish a municipal golf course and recreation center at Mount Hood. If you had an opportunity to read this law, you would see what the Special Legislation was concealing. Itís one sentence. In effect it says that any money earned at Mount Hood must be spent at Mount Hood.

If you are a member of the Mount Hood golf community, as I am, you probably are especially offended by this secretive process. The Special Legislation was approved by not only our Board of Aldermen but also the state Legislature as well as the Governor. Their vote makes you the source of all the money.

The real problem is that our elected officials think this furtive process is government.

Photos by Don Norris

January 4, 2013



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