Artificial Turf Field

Why has this site been chosen?
A number of possible sites have been considered over the years, and more recently, an analysis of impact, cost and use was done on multiple sites. These included the areas on the north side of campus (behind the Clark Center), the Clapp Street property, and property adjacent to Norton High School. The site behind Haas is the best site for various cost and management reasons:

  • It is close to our primary athletic facilities (training rooms, locker rooms, administrative offices).
  • It is close to visitor parking.
  • It has the most flexibility to allow the field to be sited in the preferred solar orientation for NCAA and recreational athletic competition.
  • It will not impact existing fields or programs either during construction or as a result of its ultimate siting.
  • It has minimal impact on neighbors.
  • The environmental impact can be managed through careful siting and construction practices.

Why not the Clark side of campus?
For reasons listed above (distance from facilities, access to visitors and limited ability to site the field properly). That area also contains wetlands, so there would be similar environmental considerations. It is a more densely-populated neighborhood so the project would impact more of Norton’s residents.

But the baseball and softball fields and tennis courts are on that side. Why not the turf field?
These sports are adequately supported through the Clark Center’s very limited facilities (though athletes still must receive care from our training staff in Haas). The athletes and visitors utilizing the turf field would require additional parking, restrooms and other services that would add significant cost to the project.

Why not take an existing field and cover it with turf?
Such a plan would not solve the problem of limited outdoor recreational space. A comprehensive review of the college’s athletics program that was  conducted for us by Inter-Collegiate Athletic Consulting states that “the college should have (a) minimum of 9.3 acres of outdoor athletic venues, but 12 acres would more likely align it with its peer and competing institutions.” The new turf field would bring us up to about 9 acres. Our existing grass fields are already heavily used and require significant resources (staff, irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides) to maintain them under conditions that are safe and suitable for intercollegiate athletic competition. The more stress we place on our fields, the greater the maintenance regime required to keep them in acceptable condition. The installation of a synthetic surface will allow the college to appropriately limit play on our existing natural grass fields, particularly during inclement weather. This will allow us to keep the existing grass fields in excellent condition without the need for extraordinary maintenance and cultural practices. This permits us to minimize water use for irrigation and limit fertilizer and pesticide applications to the least amount practicable.

Sections of the Wheaton Woods are used for faculty and student research. Will the turf field affect this work?
The siting of the field will take into account the necessary buffers for vegetative wetland borders and riverfront area. According to our landscape architect, citing current National Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NEHSP) mapping, no vernal pools, either certified or potential, will be affected by the project. Our landscape architect will be working with the biology faculty to understand their work better and to ensure that the Wheaton Woods continues to be a valuable resource for research. The lighting for the field will be designed to create minimal disruption. The lighting we intend to use is designed and built by a company called Musco. Their Light Structure Green technology is extremely energy efficient – up to 50 percent more efficient than other conventionally and commercially available systems. The LSG technology significantly limits light spill and glare and is recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association as the leading method for providing light to outdoor athletic facilities. Athletics will coordinate with faculty to limit the use of lights to times when it will create the least possible disruption to students using the observatory.

The Wheaton Woods are important to students who enjoy walking and spending time in a quiet area away from campus. Isn’t this as important as a turf field?
Wheaton tries to support the many interests and needs of its diverse student body. The turf field is a critical facility for our athletic programs, including varsity, club and intramural sports, which have more than 600 participants. It will also support summer camps and regional activities that generate important revenue for the college.

The college is interested in working with faculty and the Wheaton Woods Conservation Society to identify ways we can support the Wheaton Woods, perhaps through re-routing access to parts of the Woods currently enjoyed, or developing some new routes that will still allow students and others ample access to this area. The turf field will comprise a small section of the overall wooded area (between 5 and 10 percent of the total wooded acreage the college owns on the south side of campus). There are many unexplored and unused acres that can be accessed with thoughtful planning and cooperative efforts. In fact, our landscape architect has indicated an interest in working with the college to:

  • re-route and realign the pathways in and around the new facility to give a greater access to the various parts of the woods,
  • utilize the existing site soils in ways that provide greater topographical interest in the area, and
  • develop a revegetation plan that utilizes native and naturalized species to create visual interest and foster biodiversity within the woods. Thoughtful planting strategies at the newly created edges can help provide food, shelter, shade and/or refuge for the existing species within Wheaton Woods.

How can we be sure the project will have as limited an environmental impact as possible?
The project is subject to the strict guidelines of the Norton Conservation Commission, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife. Our campus is also part of the Hockomock Swamp Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). None of our previous recent construction projects have required special consideration by these groups, and it is assumed this one won’t, either. All construction projects have some sort of environmental impact because they change the natural environment in significant ways. A turf field, though, is one of the less impactful projects the college has undertaken. It is a permeable surface with carefully-planned drainage systems and no ambient lighting other than that which can be turned off with a simple switch. It will add value to our campus, to our students’ experience, and to our community.

It is also important that the campus community know we have hired a LEED-accredited landscape architect, Patrick Maguire, president of Activitas, Inc., to lead this project. The choice of such a project leader is indicative of the college’s strong desire to build an outstanding facility in a way that best protects one of our most valuable resources: the land we own and are responsible for caring for.


  1. Matthew Evans commented:

    From Prof. Scott Shumway (via M Evans)

    Wheaton Woods is used as a living laboratory by many science faculty and students. The woods are used in multiple labs in Bio 111 Evolution & Ecology (both semesters with over 100 students per year), Plant Biology, Methods in Field Biology, Ornithology, and Ecology. In the past it has been used for courses in Plant Ecology and Vernal Pool Conservation Biology. Numerous senior honors theses been conducted in Wheaton Woods (including one by a trustee!).

    Two vernal pools located within a few hundred yards of the proposed construction site have been the focus of the Wheaton College Vernal Pool Research Team. This is a collaboration that has involved Professors Shumway, Morgan, Brennessel, McCafferty, Auger, Benoit, Evans, and Ellison over nearly 20 years. Many students have been involved in the various research projects related to these pools, including at least three senior honors theses and dozens of 499 research projects. Two students have graduated and then continued to study vernal pools for their masters theses. Vernal pools are not isolated biological systems. They are fully integrated with the surrounding upland, as this is where the salamanders and frogs spend most of the year. They travel up to several hundred yards between breeding pools and the uplands where they spend all but 1 week of the year. Whatever happens in these upland areas influences the biology of the pools.

    I have 11 years experience serving on the Westborough Conservation Commission and Open Space Preservation Committee, so I am very familiar with the permitting process. The Conservation Commission is charged with overseeing the MA wetland regulations. Any activity within 100 ft of a wetland must be approved by the Conservation Commission, however, this so-called “buffer zone” is not protected and development often takes place within a few feet of a wetland. The woods/uplands are not protected by MA law. They are only protected by the actions of the landowner.

    I would hate to see one critical need destroy another one, especially if the one being destroyed is irreplaceable.

    Scott Shumway

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