WESTFIELD — Mayor Michael McCabe has asked the City Council for approval of a $11.1 million bond for a new athletic track and field stadium, and improvements to the Boardman and girls athletic fields at Westfield High School, to be funded by utility profits.

The Municipal Light Board authorized Westfield Gas & Electric to pay up to $1 million a year for the bond, with the vision of creating first-rate athletic facilities for Westfield. The money would come from WG&E’s revenues from operating Whip City Fiber broadband networks in other towns.

A design rendering shows the proposed track and field stadium on the Westfield High School campus. Montgomery Street runs along the bottom of the image; the high school parking lot is at the left.
Reminder Publishing submitted photo

McCabe said since he was elected in 2022, he has sought to improve the athletic fields, with the support of city councilors Brent Bean and Ralph Figy. Thomas Flaherty, general manager of the municipally owned electric, gas and internet service company, also saw a need, and a way to fulfill WG&E’s promise of giving its profits back to the community of Westfield.

McCabe and Flaherty, in conjunction with a loosely gathered working group of officials from Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments, school officials, a couple of City Council members and City Hall staff, went out to survey the city’s needs and how much funding from WG&E could buy.

Flaherty said initially the group looked at Bullens and Babe Ruth fields behind Westfield Technical Academy on King Street, as well as three opportunities at the high school on Montgomery Street — the Boardman field, the softball field, “and really how this all started, a track facility with a multi-purpose field and stadium capability with lights for Westfield High School — that’s the largest component,” he said.

“The original numbers a year ago showed potential for the five fields,” Flaherty said.

The city used American Rescue Plan Act money to fund a “25% design,” and used that preliminary plan to solicit bids for construction. By the time the bids came back, the initial estimate of $13-14 million had grown to $21 million for the five-field project.

After reviewing the bids, Flaherty said the group agreed to prioritize the new stadium and track, which he said would move Friday night football to the Westfield High School campus. That would lessen the burden on Bullens Field, a multi-purpose field which he said gets “significant use and abuse.”

“On multiple weekends through the fall, there is a potential of six or seven games on the field plus Friday night football, and soccer games for night games, while football has impacted the middle of the field. That was one of the things that came out of the further discussions,” Flaherty said.

“Moving football to WHS would allow WTA soccer to play full time on Bullens, and have access to utilizing the turf up at WHS, as well,” he added.

The new stadium at WHS would use artificial turf.

“The $11.1 million bond goes out 15 years, the usual lifespan for a bond for athletic fields, and will be paid by WG&E on top of current payments,” said McCabe. “Currently, WG&E pays $580,000 in lieu of taxes a year. This payment will increase to $1,580,000. The funds will not be coming from Westfield ratepayers, but from outlying communities.”

Whip City Fiber provides service to 16,500 customers in 20 communities, 7,500 to 8,000 customers in Westfield, and is working with West Springfield to build a fiber-optic network in that town.

“The management of the Department of Gas and Electric and Whip City Fiber are looking for ways to give back to the community’s ratepayers and residents. This significant investment in Westfield is in partnership with the mayor and his administration and Westfield Gas & Electric. It’s just a huge moment,” Flaherty said.

“For years, we’ve been trying to maintain and upgrade our athletic facilities, and I am very excited about this kind of investment within those facilities,” said Bean, who has also been involved in the discussions from the start. “This wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have the mayor on board to use some ARPA funds for design work, and Tom Flaherty and the MLB board for supporting the whole initiative.”

Bean said that it was Flaherty who came up with the idea of using the funds from Whip City Fiber, “and creating this upgrade to our facilities so everyone can use this, not just high school athletes, but something for everybody. We don’t have a track to have our track team play on — the community can use it as well, which is excellent.”

Bean said the turf field will be lined for field hockey, lacrosse and football, with the new Boardman Field available as a secondary field for day games.

“All these will have lights and all the amenities we need,” Bean said. “It’s exciting. I’ve been on the council for 22 years, and haven’t seen this kind of upgrade in our facilities in a long time. This will take the stress off of maintaining our other grass fields, like Bullens and Jachym.”

The bond was referred at the March 21 City Council meeting to the Finance Committee, which was scheduled to meet on April 2,  to determine whether it is an appropriate use of city bond capacity. The council as a whole will require a supermajority of nine to approve the bond request.

If approved, McCabe said he will spend $1.3 million from ARPA funds to bring the plan to 100% design.

“We’ll also need residents and students to help advocate and show up to meetings, and say what’s important to them. Hopefully, we’ll get the word out when the City Council does go through the process that they need to be present and advocate for such an upgrade,” Bean said. He also said, however, “I’m very confident that it will pass the City Council. I think we’re in a very, very good position.”

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