More than 150 people packed a town meeting room at the Monday night and discussed whether to build a $3.1 million athletic complex at , whether the project should be sent to voters at referendum and whether the town should invest in other projects, such as a new library, instead of the field.
Residents stood shoulder-to-shoulder around people seated before the Board of Finance and they took turns voicing opinions. Those who support the project delivered impassioned pleas about why they believe the town needs to build the field and surrounding track for the safety of teenage athletes. Others said the town should finish the high school project, now (the high school was built five years ago without money for athletic fields). And many said it is unfair to students, as well as embarrassing for the school and town, when other local schools refuse to play on Oxford’s current makeshift football and soccer field due to its poor drainage, lack of bleachers, etc. Several sporting events have been cancelled over the past four years, and the school has been forced to find new venues to play games; sometimes, Oxford has to pay a substantial fee to use those fields.
People on the opposite side of the issue believe Oxford should invest in a new library before an athletic field. Oxford has been promised a new library for more than 30 years and many library patrions believe a new learning center should be built before the sports complex, which includes an artificial turf field that can be used for multiple sports, an eight-lane rubberized track, bleachers on both sides and a press box.
First Selectman George Temple says he is not against building a new library, but he does not believe it should be built for $5 million as has been discussed.
The Board of Finance did not take a vote Monday night about whether to approve the field project. The board is following the town charter, which states that the board must hold a public hearing before voting. So, the finance board will meet tonight at 7 o’clock at Town Hall to vote on whether to give a positive referral to the Board of Selectmen, which will then have the authority to set a town meeting to vote on the project.
Still, some residents do not believe the issue should be voted upon at a town meeting - they want a referendum.
Resident Janis Hardy, who has been involved in town politics for several years, said she believes the field should have been built when the high school was built between 2005 and 2007. Still, she said several people have approached her about how they should start a petition to send the project to referendum.
"George, I believe this project should go to referendum,” Hardy told Temple during the meeting. “It’s the cleanest way to do it. I still think it will pass by a simple majority.”
She said she will circulate a petition to send it to referendum. She said she would need to collect 200 signatures from property owners in Oxford and believes that will be easy to do.
At the meeting, Temple avoided discussing a referendum. Instead, he spoke passionately about the need for a new field, as did dozens of others in attendance who clearly support the project.
The following is a copy of Temple's speech:
“Much has been said and written about the project you are to consider, the OHS field complex. I recognize that reasonable people can be on either side of this issue, however some of the criticism and comments made seem less than reasonable. To begin with, I saw the need for this project when I attended a football game at our current field. What I saw was bare patches, a muddy quagmire and no means for individuals to watch the game. Most of the spectators either brought their own chairs or stood around. If they were unlucky enough to stand behind the teams on the field they saw nothing, unless they were extremely tall. The opposing spectators not only commented about the deplorable conditions but joked about our town. The person filming the game for the Oxford team had to do so from a cherry picker. We have no press box. In the distance you could hear the din of a gasoline engine which provided electricity for the scoreboard. Players were slipping and sliding and covered in mud.
When a soccer game is played on the field, the same conditions prevailed and the ball takes bizarre bounces off of the uneven field.
There are those who say we don’t need a field. I wonder how many of them have actually been up there to see it. There are those who say that we are too hasty in this process. They seem to confuse haste with decisiveness. Unfortunately, there are those who say this project should fail because I am obviously behind it. They seem to put politics over the best interest of the kids in Oxford and the Town in general. There are those who say we are cutting corners. To these people, I invite you to come up and explain where we are cutting corners. The field we are proposing is built by the same people who built Giants Stadium and Gillette Stadium fields. Are we to imply that they are cutting corners?
The financial impact from this project is minimal. Especially when it is weighed against the safety of our kids and the pride that we can all feel for a job well done. There are those who say that I am a supporter of this field because my son plays football. I don’t deny that my son plays football but a lot of other people’s sons and daughters will benefit from this field for many, many years to come. My enthusiasm in furthering this project stems from my desire to do the best for all of them. Some say that Oxford has other projects that have not been finished. That may be so. But this project is an attempt to finish the biggest project that this town has ever undertaken, the Oxford High School.
My concern is not to contribute to the camaraderie of a committee but rather to get it done. I thank the original committee for the work that they did, in particular in determining the site, which I thought was well reasoned and well thought out. I feel, though, that if we don’t act at this point it is highly unlikely that this project will ever be completed. We have a state championship cheerleading squad who have to perform in the mud. We have a football team who works long and hard hours year round in order to be prepared for a game in a quagmire. We have a soccer team consisting of high level athletes who must play the peculiarities of the soccer field instead of having a true roll of the ball. We have a state championship cross country team who did not have a cross country course to run on. We have a track team who finished third in the State, without a track. As your First Selectman, I cannot stand by and watch first-rate kids attempt to perform on fourth rate fields. Please support this effort.”
Oxford Patch will bring you more on the field proposal today, tonight and tomorrow morning.