LOTS OF OPTIONS - The Symonds Way Exploratory Committee (SWEC) considers the future use of the Reading property. The seven-member committee is charged with recommending the best options for roughly 2.5 acres of buildable land adjacent to the Burbank Ice Arena.

READING – It’s filled with boulders, construction debris, rusty car frames, and even a mystery contaminant. It’s also the potential future home of pickle ball courts, or a pool, soccer fields, an indoor athletic center, and yes, maybe even a new senior center. The options are many.

“That’s what were here for, to throw out ideas,” said Carlo Bacci, chair of the Symonds Way Exploratory Committee (SWEC), which held its second meeting Wednesday night at Town Hall.

The seven-member committee is charged with recommending the best options for roughly 2.5 acres of buildable land adjacent to the Burbank Ice Arena. The Symonds Way property was purchased from the Zanni family for $750,000 in 2019. It includes two parcels totaling roughly 25 acres with much of those unbuildable wetlands.

The 2.5 acres is part of a larger plot that totals 4.9 acres. But when you add in the 35-foot buffer required for the surrounding wetlands, plus an easement along Range Road, the buildable area drops to 2.5 acres. Length wise it’s roughly 780 feet long. The width varies from 160 feet (the width of a football field) to 35 feet at one end. It’s a shape that will take some creativity, regardless of what the plan becomes.

And then there’s the mystery contaminant.

James Pearson of the Reading engineering firm Weston & Sampson started the meeting with a description of the site, including the discovery on an unknown contaminant during the preliminary environmental survey.

There’s a reason it remains unknown. If the town goes ahead and tests the site, it will have to deal with the consequences. And depending on what is found, that can mean a lot of money.

“We haven’t taken it to the next level yet because we don’t want to put the town on the hook,” said Pearson. “If you find and confirm hazardous materials you can’t walk away from it. You have to deal with it.”

Another reason to delay testing, which Pearson said would cost in the range of $15,000, is that the committee hasn’t decided what it wants to put there. Depending on what SWEC recommends to the Select Board, there may be no need to test a large area. Why risk testing everywhere when you’re only building in one area?

So that means figuring out what the preference is.

“I’ve always had recreation on my mind,” said vice-chair and School Committee member Chuck Robinson.

“Recreation makes the most sense,” said Bacci. “We have Turf 1 and Turf 2. How about 3 and 4?”

“Recreation does make sense there,” said Angela Binda (Recreation Committee). “We need to think about what fits in that space but we also need to think about what has the town been talking about for the past few years and that has to drive this process.”

Bacci, Binda, and Robinson were joined by committee members Heather Clish (Community Planning & Development Committee), Andrew Dribin (Conservation Committee), and Nancy Twomey (Permanent Building Committee) in endorsing the idea of adding more recreational opportunities to an area that already has baseball, soccer, and skating. Karen Janowski (Council on Aging) was absent but COA chair Marilyn Shapleigh participated remotely. Committee members also acknowledged the fact that the town is still debating where to put a new senior/community center and Symonds Way is one of many options being considered.

The next step for SWEC is a town-wide survey, similar to the recent surveys the town has done asking residents about spending ARPA funds and a new senior/community center.

One member of the community didn’t need a survey to express his feelings on the site. Former Select Board member John Halsey was present and he asked the board to consider the big picture. By looking at the site as part of a bigger recreational area, Halsey said SWEC could, “enhance and release a sleeping giant.”

“I think it’s really important that the 2.5 acres not be isolated in your head,” said Halsey. “I would suggest you look at this as a holistic project going forward.”

His comments led to a discussion of other possibilities in the area, including moving the extra parking behind the ice rink across the street and then using that space for other opportunities. The town owns that land, but leases it to Burbank so it would involve altering the lease in some way.

SWEC will meet again Feb. 15 with the main topic of discussion the survey.

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