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Issue Recap: Claxton Field

February 23, 2023
• The Needham Select Board held a joint meeting with other town boards on February 15, 2023 to discuss soil issues at Claxton Field and the mitigation strategies in place.

reported by Yuxiao Yuan

The renovation of Claxton Field hit new roadblocks after additional soil testing was determined to be needed affecting the planned activities of the Needham high schools’softball teams and other spring events. On February 15th, the Select Board held a special meeting to bring the community up to date on this matter.

Claxton Field has been slated for an upgrade for years. In the winter of 2021, during the design process, consulting firm Weston and Sampson conducted a visual soil inspection and discovered ash and solid waste materials below the top 6 to 12 inches of soil. This was consistent with the site’s historical use for trash incineration. The Town then modified the renovation design based on these findings.

“DPW and Parks & Recreation worked with Weston & Samson to modify the design so there would be no longer any digging below the top soil, and making sure that we weren’t going into the waste materials,” Assistant Town Manager Katie King related to the assembled boards.” And also the redesign included mitigation strategies, [such as] putting down a geotextile barrier to formally cap the site and then building up with additional fill on top.”

Furthermore, a second visual inspection last spring found a glass and plastic shards four to seven inches below the playground surface.

To that, King continued,”We did not have a comfort level with that little of a buffer, and so, I think, within days we had removed the playground structure entirely. DPW also brought new fill on site and reseeded that area and put a temporary fence around it.”

The good news is the second testing confirmed the field areas have 10 to 12 inches of debris-free top soil, which allows the fields to remain open.

“The likelihood of contact with that material was quite low on those fields because you’d have to get pretty much a full foot down,” assured King.

That being said, the softball teams can still use Claxton Field in 2023 and are expected to move to DeFazio Park in 2024 after McLeod field is converted from baseball to softball. This schedule would be subject to Town Meeting approval of a $1.3 million funding request for McLeod Field, and $1.78 million request for Claxton Field in May.

However, uncertainty about the schedule arose due to an incident last summer. A contractor working on a water main project for the town excavated some soil from Claxton Field without the town’s permission and piled it on site. After a resident reported the incident to the Board of Health, the Town took immediate actions to safeguard the area. Despite this, in December the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection requested Needham conduct further testing on the chemical makeup of the soil in response to a resident complaint.

Explained Katie King,”They want us to test solely on the fact that it is a historical burn dump. So it’s not that they saw something in particular in the first or the second round of soil testing, it’s just by nature of the history of the site.”

Town officials had decided not to perform voluntary soil makeup testing before, because they were quite confident there would not be any contaminant in the surface. According to Needham Health Department director Timothy McDonald, “It is incredibly unlikely that any materials would off-gas through the soil. It is incredibly unlikely that any materials would migrate upwards through soil. So the typical uses that have occurred at the field: Running, jumping, anything like that, is unlikely to have exposed anyone to any type of chemicals.”

On top of that, the modified design includes mitigation measures for potential contaminants in the subsurface. Although Town officials do not think the results will lead to the closure of Claxton Field, they have suggested relocating the softball team activities to the Broadmeadow School field and Avery Field to provide predictability for teams, games and practices. But representatives from the softball teams expressed concerns about the size and locations of these two alternative spaces. As a result, Town officials agreed to set up another meeting with them to explore other options.

Responded King,”Our thought was that providing you a space immediately separate from Claxton would give you stability, but if we hear back from you that you want to stay on Claxton as long as you can, and then have to pivot very quickly if need be, I think we can add that to the agenda for the meeting.”

The Town will schedule a second meeting to update the public on the soil testing results when they come in.

This story ran as part of the Needham Channel News, a weekly newscast airing on The Needham Channel every Thursday at 7:30pm. The Needham Channel News can be found on the Community Channel: Comcast 9, Astound 15 and Verizon 29. Most Thursdays it also can be viewed on our HD Channel on Verizon 2129, Astound 613 and streaming on this site.