Proponents of a proposed $2.6 million artificial turf field, new stands and other improvements at Blocksidge Field failed by about 30 votes to win approval at Town Meeting Monday night.
The measure, which was supported by the town's Finance Committee, Capital Improvement Committee and three Selectmen, won 154 votes. It needed 185 to garner the two-thirds majority of those who attended the Town Meeting.
One hundred and twenty of those voting at Town Meeting opposed the measure, which would have required that the town borrow $1,857,856 to pay for the new field.
An additional $750,000 would have had to be raised from private sources before the town would begin to rebuild the field for all major field sports, install lighting and build new seating. About $450,000 of the private funding has been pledged, said Paul Gorman, who made the presentation for the One Field for All Committee.
Selectman Barry Greenfield and others urged Town Meeting delegates support the proposal on its merits, investing in the town's infrastructure.
Concerns about health issues and cost
Opponents, led by Selectman David Van Dam, voiced concerns about the costs of the debt service and about the potential health risks of the artificial turf.
Much was made of the "crumbled rubber" that cushions the turf as a base. The material is made of old tires that opponents, such as Board of Health member Dr. Larry Block, argued contained toxic materials.
Opponents painted a vivid picture of storm waters washing the crumbled tire bits onto the nearby beach.
Block said the three-member board of health opposed the construction of the artifical field. In addition to the materials used, Block said the board was concerned about the heat levels generated by the turf and an increase in knee injuries.
Both sides cited numerous studies on artificial turf, with each side claiming that the studies supported their position.
Former Swampscott resident Chris Huntress, whose Huntress Sports has been advising the One Field for All Committee, said that 20 states have investigated the health risks of artifical fields and found them to be safe.
High School football coach Steve Dembowski said, "The park is in terrible shape." He said without the private funding support from a few families, the field would be so bad that it would be unplayable.
"This is a small price to pay for the kids who play sports," Dembowski said.
About 1,400 children would benefit from the field
It was estimated that 1,400 children play football, soccer, lacrosse or field hockey in town.
Proponents including Tom Driscoll said the artificial surface would have the benefit of taking pressure off stressed fields which have deteriorated from over use.
Jackie Kinney, former chairman of the School Committee, said the lighted field would allow for night games, which would be the "hub of the community." She said it would give young people a place to go, which they do not have now.
Opponents argued that the town has more pressing needs, particularly in flood control. Van Dam said the cost to the town would be $216,876.44 per year in debt service.
"It would be great to have a new field, but I am not sure it is the right priority for the town," Van Dam said.
He said he doubted if $2.6 million would be the full cost.