Barrington Town Council approves $5 million bond for athletic fields

Councilor Humm: ‘It’s about time we do something about’ fields

By Josh Bickford
Posted 3/5/24

A member of the Barrington Town Council is hoping to bring synthetic turf athletic fields to Barrington Middle School.  

During the meeting on Monday night, March 4, Councilor Rob Humm …

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Barrington Town Council approves $5 million bond for athletic fields

Councilor Humm: ‘It’s about time we do something about’ fields


A member of the Barrington Town Council is hoping to bring synthetic turf athletic fields to Barrington Middle School. 

During the meeting on Monday night, March 4, Councilor Rob Humm shared his vision for the project — he spoke about building two new synthetic turf athletic fields at the current middle school athletic complex, which already features basketball courts, a walking trail, tennis/pickle ball courts, and plenty of parking.

Humm made a series of motions to push forward the project. He said for too long town officials have not addressed the troubling condition of athletic fields in Barrington. He said the field problems have been well-documented for more than 40 years. 

Two of Humm’s motions gained support from fellow Councilors Kate Berard and Braxton Cloutier, while Carl Kustell and Annelise Conway were consistent in voicing their opposition. 

Humm’s first successful motion called for a $5 million municipal bond — $500,000 of the bond will be used for a road culvert project in Bay Spring, while the balance will be dedicated to improving the town’s athletic fields. 

Berard seconded the motion and Cloutier also voted in favor. It passed 3-2. 

Humm’s second motion called for the Barrington Middle School synthetic turf proposal to be shared with the Barrington School Committee and potentially be included on the November election ballot as a referendum question for residents to vote on. 

Berard seconded the motion and Cloutier voted in favor. It passed 3-2. 

Humm said this athletic field improvement project at the middle school would mark the second time in the last 25 years where the town’s municipal government spearheaded a field improvement project on school grounds. 

In the early 2000s, the Barrington Park and Recreation Commission, led by then-Chairman Bobby Dillon, secured a $300,000 grant from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management that was used to rebuild athletic fields at the middle school. Humm said the grant was the largest ever secured by the town up to that point in time.

The new middle school athletic fields were located on the Lincoln Avenue side of the middle school property, but were eliminated during the middle school construction project. That portion of the property is now covered with the new school. 

Humm said even more important than the precedent set by the previous field project at the middle school is the benefits that his proposal would bring to this community. 

He said the project would be a win-win for the schools and the town, as the new synthetic turf fields could be shared by both the school teams and the town’s youth recreation programs. 

He said the synthetic turf fields will solve the long-running problems Barrington has had — the turf fields will take the stress off the natural grass fields in town that are over-taxed. Humm said the report from the town-hired contractor, Traverse Landscape Architects, clearly states that the solution to the town’s field woes is the construction of synthetic turf fields. 

“It’s about time we do something about it,” Humm said. 

Berard said her personal choice was not for synthetic turf, but she said the question needs to go to the voters in town. 

The proposal from Humm was a shift from a prior plan to install synthetic turf at Chianese Field. That idea received push-back from many neighbors to Chianese. 

Public weighs in

Comments from the public regarding the middle school proposal ranged from outspoken opposition to strong support. 

Sarah O’Brien spoke about the environmental impacts and how the synthetic turf field would have PFAS. She said she did not want Barrington’s kids rolling around on the PFAS, referring to the chemicals that are often found in the production of plastics. 

Tom Rimoshytus offered a rebuttal to O’Brien’s comments. He called her comments scare tactics and said that the new synthetic turf products were PFAS-free. 

Rimoshytus carried a small piece of the synthetic turf and showed it to the Council members. He said that turf product was also 100 percent recyclable — he held up an envelope and said it contained the certificates validating his comments. He placed the turf and the envelope on the Councilors’ desk.

Chris Coleman, an official with the local youth lacrosse league, said he supports the synthetic turf field proposal. He said children who are playing sports are already playing on synthetic turf when they travel to away games or clinics in other communities. He said earlier that night he had been at lacrosse clinic at Longplex in Tiverton where about 200 Barrington kids were playing. Longplex is an indoor athletic complex that features synthetic turf.

Coleman said that some Council members may not support synthetic turf, but the question should be decided by all residents. 

Give the voters a shot, he said. 

A Maple Avenue resident spoke about some of his concerns surrounding synthetic turf: he mentioned the cost for replacing the turf surface in the future and potential issues that have surfaced for other town’s fields. The resident also spoke about the infill used on synthetic turf, but Humm countered those points by stating that any new synthetic turf fields in Barrington would feature an organic infill and not the old crumb rubber. Humm also said that the project would be done with a focus on protecting the surrounding environment.

That point followed a question by Tim Faulkner, a resident and official with the Barrington Farm School. Faulkner asked if there had been any wetlands study completed for the middle school property. He asked about the impacts of run-off.

Humm pointed to a synthetic turf field constructed by Wheeler School on property they own off-campus. He said Wheeler School installed the field in 2018 on land that is part of the Runnins River watershed. He said Wheeler officials chose products that did not harm the environment — that would mirror Barrington’s approach to the work, Humm added.

Chuck Pointer, an official with the local youth soccer league, said he is not sure if there is a perfect answer to the town’s problems, but feels that the town residents should be allowed to decide on the turf proposal. Joshua Glass said that fields are part of the town’s infrastructure and must be addressed. He also said that the voters need to decide on the proposal. 

Scott Pickering, a resident and General Manager for East Bay Media Group, told Council members that research clearly shows Barrington is a sports centric community. He said Councilors cannot wish that away — it is what is it. But, he added, some town officials have failed to recognize that over the years and have not prioritized recreation to match the town’s demographics. 

Pickering said some people will use scare tactics when discussing synthetic turf. He said rarely do those people offer any solutions to the established field problems documented in Barrington. 

If you’re opposed to artificial turf, what else would you do to solve the problem, Pickering asked. 

Conway, later in the meeting, said she was strongly against synthetic turf and appeared to reference other property in town that could hold the potential for developing more natural grass athletic fields. She spoke about the Hampden Meadows School property and the former Carmelite monastery property. Humm later told Conway that the future of the HMS property is not clear and the town may not have access to it. Meanwhile, there is a plan to build housing on the monastery property. Conway also said she wanted to bring the proposal to a vote, although she later voted against Humm’s motion.

Kustell said he preferred a plan to use a hybrid turf — a synthetic material woven into the natural grass fibers of an athletic field. He said that product costs less and is used by professional soccer leagues in Europe. Kustell said he could not support a fully synthetic turf field. 

He also asked what would happen to the proposal if it does not gain the support of the School Committee. 

Berard said she did not want to propose a smaller bond amount — the hybrid turf proposal would cost less than $2 million — because she felt it was a piecemeal approach that was fiscally irresponsible, as officials would later need to propose additional spending to address other needs. 

Berard called for the synthetic turf vote to take place in November. She also said that she could see the town spending $5 million on field improvements, with or without synthetic turf.

Humm then started offering motions. His first one failed to pass, but his second and third motions were approved. 

Officials plan to revisit the topic after hearing back from the Barrington School Committee.

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