Put the brakes on the Ayer Shirley Regional High School Fields Project

Elementary schools must be prioritized

2015, Ayer Shirley Regional High School held its graduation exercises outdoors. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/ ASHLEY LUCENTE (John Love)

When Shirley residents vote on the Ayer Shirley Regional High School Fields Project, they need to consider if what they are voting on is putting money toward something that prioritizes sports over other more important topics. My name is Justin Cullinan, a Shirley citizen, a freshman at ASRHS, and an activist for the “Vote No” campaign for the Fields Project.

Not only is this plan way too expensive ($6.2 million), but it is also exceeding what is actually needed to fix the fields. Yes, the fields need renovations, but we don’t need, for example, a synthetic turf replacement over a natural grass field. Also just some information on synthetic turf fields: They last a minimum of eigh years, and a maximum of 12. The replacement cost is not included in the $6.2 million. It costs $400,000 every time the carpet is replaced which doesn’t include the desired pad or other accessories. Plus it would cost roughly $1,500 for a contractor to do extra heavy-duty maintenance if needed. Finally, the field can get up to 30-40% hotter than the air temperature.

Aside from the cons in a synthetic turf field, it is important to mention that just in the last year, Shirley’s taxes have increased substantially, and what we don’t need is for them to raise more for sports fields when our elementary schools are literally falling apart. We need to focus on Page Hilltop Elementary School and Lura A White Elementary School first. As of now, the district has not applied yet for the renovation of the elementary schools.

The plan voted on last year was for $7.1 million. Since then, the plan has been slightly adjusted down to $7M. Now, with the Norton Family Pledge ($500,000) and the School Committee Stabilization Fund donation ($300,000) the final cost is $6.2M.

I have always considered myself a school and community-oriented person and have dedicated my efforts to my town and school. I would never want to make anyone suffer or be unhappy. I do not hate sports or athletes, and I realize the fields need to be fixed — just not for this much money or to this extent. I am simply prioritizing our elementary schools and their renovations first and foremost.

I have been educating myself on the fields project for over a year now. I’ve attended public forums, a town meeting, the election, and spent hours arguing facts against old and current plans alike. I have been campaigning solely of my political passions and opinions. I am not a proxy for my parents. I am a strong, independent, passionate young activist and my opinion is valid just as much as anyone else’s. Just because I am a teenager does not mean I don’t know what I’m talking about.

There has been negativity around this issue in the form of snarky social media posts, angry write-ups here or there and even some vandalization and theft of signage. We must learn to be better than this.

This is an issue that is important to everybody involved and as we head towards voting time, let us conduct ourselves civilly and respectfully.  I’d like to thank Kevin Bresnahan, an Ayer resident and activist for “Vote Yes” campaign, for exemplifying this. At the end of the day, we are concerned citizens but we are also neighbors and friends.

Voting is from 8 a.m.-8 p.m, Saturday, Sept. 28 at the Shirley Town Offices.