Barrington council opens the door for a new recreation vision

Councilor Humm proposes solutions to long-standing field problems

By Josh Bickford
Posted 1/10/23

A recreation center.

A turf field.

Better field maintenance.

Barrington Town Council Vice President Rob Humm shared a detailed presentation at Monday night’s meeting that offered three …

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Barrington council opens the door for a new recreation vision

Councilor Humm proposes solutions to long-standing field problems


A recreation center.

A turf field.

Better field maintenance.

Barrington Town Council Vice President Rob Humm shared a detailed presentation at Monday night’s meeting that offered three solutions that he believes will fix the problems that have plagued local athletic fields for decades. 

Humm eventually made a motion calling for the town to explore the three items — 1. Whether to build a new town-owned field house/recreation center; 2. Whether to construct an artificial turf field in town; and 3. To consider establishing a new field maintenance team. 

The motion featured a series of six action items, including surveying the public, researching potential locations for the proposed recreation center and turf field, and a call for public outreach sessions.

The motion passed 5-0.

Prior to the vote, other council members shared their thoughts about Humm’s presentation. There appeared to be strong support for pursuing the field house/recreation center proposal and exploring field maintenance ideas, but some councilors were hesitant to endorse an artificial turf field in town. 

Annelise Conway said she wanted to split up the different parts of the proposal — she said the field maintenance work seemed like “low-hanging fruit,” but she had significant concerns about synthetic turf. Conway said she believes athletes were three times more likely to suffer injuries on turf than on natural grass — Humm challenged that assertion later in the discussion.

“I would like to pull that (item) aside,” Conway said, adding that the presentation warrants more conversation and more input. 

Braxton Howard Medlin said he too wanted to see turf pulled out. He said his greatest concern was the timing. He said the town has identified the athletic field problems for decades — Humm cited studies from 1986, 2001, 2014 and 2021 that all identified a need for more athletic fields and better maintenance of fields — but Medlin said officials still had not figured out a solution. He said he wanted to see the town stop talking and agree on a solution. 

“The solutions are here. I would just like to see this move forward,” he said. 

Kate Berard agreed there was a need for the town to do something to address the fields issue. She said she was hesitant on proceeding without including school officials in the discussion, since some of the proposed locations were on school property. Berard was strongly in support of a field house, and endorsed the idea of gathering feedback from town boards and commissions. 

Council President Carl Kustell said he had no doubt about the need to address the fields issue. He said he has coached youth sports teams and witnessed the fields first-hand. He said the fields were underfunded, a point emphasized in Humm’s presentation which cited a recent report by the RI Public Expenditure Council which placed Barrington in the bottom third of all cities and towns in the state on recreation-related spending. In addition, Rhode Island ranked near the bottom nationally in recreation-related spending.

Kustell said expanding the number of fields was “a no-brainer,” although he was not sure where those new fields would be located. 

As for the recreation center, Kustell liked the idea especially if it could be constructed in a cost-effective manner. The council president said he was skeptical on building a new artificial turf field, citing concerns about locating it at Victory Field at Barrington High School because of its proximity to the flood plain. 

Humm took some time to address concerns cited by his fellow councilors. For starters, he challenged Conway on her reference to information showing that there were more injuries on artificial turf. Humm said there were multiple studies that showed no difference in the number of injuries suffered on turf or grass. 

He also cited two recent NFL quarterbacks who suffered serious non-contact injuries while playing on natural grass. Humm reminded councilors of the strong endorsements for artificial turf offered by area colleges, and the proposal included in the 2021 ad hoc committee report. 

Humm said Barrington cannot go into paralysis mode because there is the possibility of flood events. He said the town needs to make investments and pursue smart design approaches — maybe building a slightly elevated playing surface at Victory Field or protecting it with a raised berm; he also wondered if insurance could protect a town investment.

Members of the public also addressed the presentation and some of the councilors’ concerns. Tom Rimoshytus said he moved to Barrington in 1971 and since that time very few improvements have been made to Barrington fields. He cited a new field built on Sowams Road and fields at Chianese, but beyond that “nothing’s changed except we have more children and more sports,” Rimoshytus said. 

Lisa Daft said Barrington High School student-athletes are already playing on artificial turf at other schools. She urged the town to move forward on the plan. 

Josh Glass said accessible fields is part of the town’s infrastructure and should be provided by the town. He also cited inequities for female sports, and reminded councilors that every single Ivy League college already plays on artificial turf. 

Bill Horn said he had served on two committees that studied the fields issue in town. He said the concerns listed by councilors have been addressed in those reports and suggested the council sit down with members of the 2021 ad hoc fields committee to learn more. Horn also said BHS student athletes are already at a disadvantage because they are unable to practice and play on artificial turf. 

Horn told councilors that a field house, which most of them supported, would include artificial turf. 

Humm’s presentation had detailed the numerous technological advances made with artificial turf and how new materials allow it to be more environmentally-friendly. 

Toward the end of the hour-plus discussion, councilors discussed the next step in the process, settling on a request to have the town manager begin work on the item and hopefully return back to the February council meeting with progress. 

“… the clock is continuously ticking,” Humm said. 

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