NORTH ANDOVER — The recreation complex the town plans to build near North Andover Middle School enjoys wide support.
It's being touted as a place where residents of all ages will be able to go for a walk or a run, play tennis, pickle ball, baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer or basketball or watch a performance in the amphitheater that has been proposed for the complex.
The residents who live the closest to the site support the recreation complex – but it worries them. Their chief concerns, they said during an interview Friday afternoon, are the lights and the artificial turf.
The Planning Board is expected to decide whether to approve the complex Tuesday evening. The bulk of the financing for the $8.75 million project will come from the town's Community Preservation Fund.
Steven Legal, of 26 Hemlock St., pointed to a spot about 30 to 40 feet from the back of his house and said a field light on a 60-foot pole will be located there.
Two playgrounds, one for 2-to-5-year-olds, the other for 6-to-12-year-olds, are planned for an area close to his backyard, he said.
"They already have three playgrounds at the Atkinson School," he said.
Kimberly Reardon, of 62 Parker St., said 75 percent of the 16 acres bordered by the middle and Atkinson schools as well as the Anne Bradstreet Early Childhood Center have grass and other natural surfaces.
The remaining 25 percent is covered by unnatural surfaces, such as asphalt. When the recreation complex is completed, she said, the ratio will be reversed. Three-quarters of the area will have unnatural surfaces, mostly artificial turf and asphalt, she said.
The use of artificial turf with crumb rubber infill is particularly worrisome, Reardon and other neighbors said, because of health concerns. Crumb rubber consists of ground-up tires.
Margaret Legal, Steven's wife, said this material emits a foul odor, especially when it's hot outside.
"We'll be smelling it," she said.
Rick Green, chairman of the Middle School Fields Improvement Committee that has spearheaded the project, said the lights will not be as intrusive as the neighbors fear. They are designed to illuminate the playing area, he said.
"Eight feet behind the light tower, you are in darkness," he said.
A quarter-mile walking path that will go around the outer edge of the complex was initially going to have lights on 25-foot poles, according to both the neighbors and Green. The poles will instead be 12 feet tall, Green said.
Reardon and her neighbors are not convinced that the field lights won't disrupt their lives. They visited Merrimack College on Feb. 27 and Greater Lawrence Technical School the next day to observe the field lights at those facilities.
"That's when our jaws hit the ground," Reardon said.
Regarding the artificial turf, Green said 11,000 playing fields have turf with crumb rubber infill – including the North Andover High School football field.
Public health officials say there is "no conclusive evidence" that crumb rubber poses any kind of medical risk, Green said.
North Andover has a "shortage of fields," he said. The fields local athletes use at 1600 Osgood St. will soon not be available, he noted. Artificial turf, he said, is a better playing surface because it does not require as much maintenance as grass.
Natural surfaces are also subject to flooding, he pointed out.
The annual Town Meeting approved the recreation complex last year. Reardon and the Legals said the article did not include anything about artificial turf.
Reardon said she and her neighbors are bothered by the town's "lack of transparency" in its bid to build the complex.
"We've had meetings over the last two years," Green said.
Tuesday night's Planning Board meeting will take place in the Town Hall. It will begin at 7 p.m.