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The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Community argues for change on Cypress Field

Town receives feedback related to Cypress Field about possible renovations and conversion to turf.

A quote from the Boston Globe hangs on the wall of the athletic department’s office, opposite a row of picture windows that overlook Cypress Field, blanketed by snow and tarp. The quote reads, “J. Leonard Mason, physical director of the municipal gym, made the excellent point … that the athletes of the school were handicapped in having to train on the public playground. Brookline, the richest town in the world, surely might tear off a few coupons to provide the boys with a private field.”

The quote, from 1911, addresses a much-debated issue in Brookline. Players and coaches feel that the current state of Cypress Field is not conducive to athletic play, and many hope to see a layer of synthetic turf replace the existing shredded, muddy surface. However, in 2022, the town voted on a warrant proposed by the Athletic Field Surface Task Force and decided to restrict the construction of new synthetic fields (Cypress Field was one of the proposed locations for a synthetic conversion). The field will likely remain natural grass for the foreseeable future.

Girls junior varsity (JV) soccer coach Owen Pennant Jones said he was frustrated with the state of the field during the team’s season.

“The playing surface was awful and proceeded to get worse the longer the season went along,” Pennant Jones said. “It was a detriment to the play because of the surface, which, on a turf field or on an immaculate grass field, would have been conducive to playing attractive soccer. All the bumps and the ruts and the clumps of earth and everything made it very difficult to play with the ball on the ground.”

Athletic Director Kyle Williams said Cypress Field is a central part of the athletic programs, but it falls short in many areas.

“The field in its current state doesn’t meet the needs of the high school athletics department,” Williams said. “Because of the proximity to the field and the variety of other parks and recreational amenities that are proximate to this facility, I would hope that they could prioritize active recreation on at least a portion of the Cypress Field.”

According to a 2020 report by the town comparing the costs of existing synthetic turf and natural grass fields at Harry Downes Field, synthetic turf is more cost-effective than natural grass. Synthetic fields cost, on average, $103,403 annually over a cycle of 20 years, $15,608 more than natural grass fields. However, their usage rate is 3.68 times higher than a natural grass field, making them more effective by a cost-per-use metric.

According to a report by Brookline’s Park and Recreation Commission, synthetic fields, based on the same amount of usage as a natural grass field, require significantly less maintenance in general.

According to Alexandra Vecchio, Brookline’s Director of Parks and Open Space, Brookline uses multiple methods to maintain Cypress Field, including fertilizers, aeration, seeding and soil decompaction. A turf blanket currently protects the middle area of the field and will be left on until the spring. Between August and November of 2023, the town spent roughly 35 hours of maintenance at Cypress Field alone and $5,200 on seeds and fertilizer.

A 2020 comparison at Downes Field between natural grass fields at Brookline’s recommended usage rate and actual usage rate vs. a synthetic turf field.
Source: 2020 Athletic Fields Needs Assessment and Master Plan (GRAPHIC BY MARCO NEER & OPENAI)

Vecchio said the maintenance constraints, amid extreme overuse, result in few options to reduce field damage.

“We keep pushing our practices and our maintenance regime as best we can,” Vecchio said. “But it’s more so that with the hours of usage that are there, unless there’s a reduction in hours, there’s only so far that the maintenance work will take us.”

Overuse is a big issue at Cypress Field and the main reason for the lack of quality turf. According to Vecchio, usage hours rose from 31.5 hours per week in the fall of 2022 up to 42 hours per week in 2023, exceeding Brookline’s worst-ranked tier of field quality of 19 hours per week (1000 hours per year) or more.

Williams said a synthetic turf field directly in front of the school would be incredible for the large athletic community and help bring up the entire system, not just the varsity teams.

“For high school athletic use, a synthetic field at the school would make a positive impact in our ability to offer a high-level athletic experience, but also supplement with more athletic experience too,” Williams said. “On the days where you have bad weather, where you have cancellations, it’s the JV, the freshmen, the club, the intramurals, those are the groups that get bumped.”

Vecchio said Parks and Open Space faces difficulty improving field quality while respecting the opinions of Brookline taxpayers. Community members have expressed concerns regarding the safety of synthetic turf fields, citing issues including waste production, heat island effects and the potential contamination of drinking water. Vecchio said she can’t see new synthetic fields being built anytime soon and that other options are limited.

“We either need fewer user groups out on the field, which isn’t a good solution for anyone who wants to participate in a recreational activity out on a field, or we need more fields,” Vecchio said. “Real estate is at a prime [in] Metro Boston, and we don’t have any locations in the immediate future that the town would be able to purchase and turn into additional field space.”

Both Pennant Jones and Williams said Cypress Field does not meet the needs of the teams. Vecchio said there isn’t much that can be done about it.

“It is absolutely a very frustrating challenge,” Vecchio said. “But one that without one of those two variables changing, there isn’t a whole lot that will shift.”

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