Protests Target Trustees
The Concord Journal
By Ben Aaronson/ Staff Writer
Thursday, October 6, 2005
Protesters made their voices heard this weekend at two separate
demonstrations against the Middlesex School's construction project in
Estabrook Woods. Opponent groups Friends of Estabrook Woods and
Middlesex Graduates For Estabrook each staged demonstrations directed at
the school's Board of Trustees who were meeting in Concord last week.
About 20 members of the Friends of Estabrook Woods patrolled Monument
Square late Friday afternoon. Armed with flyers and home-made signs bearing
slogans like: "Concord cares about Estabrook Woods" and "Choose to protect
what's left" the protesters elicited intermittent honks of support from passing
traffic in the busy town center.
"Our message to the trustees is that we want them to stop the development
in Estabrook Woods," said Carol Dwyer, who helped organize the
demonstration. "It's not just a piece of land. It's like a little museum. People are
very upset that [the school] would destroy it."
Dwyer argued that much of the land that is now being developed was
donated to the school with the expressed condition that it be maintained as
"The Middlesex trustees are now going back on that agreement. That's why
people are all stirred up about it," she said.
Friday's more conventional protest was followed up on Saturday morning
with a more theatrical demonstration by a group of current and former
Middlesex students calling themselves Middlesex Graduates For Estabrook.
Gathering in front of the dining hall on the Middlesex campus, the protesters
staged a mock funeral, complete with a larger than life puppet of Henry David
Thoreau who strolled through a cemetery representing all that would be lost if
the woods were cut down. Some of the protesters dressed all in black, while
others donned tree stump outfits and pretended to play tennis, signifying the
destruction of the forest to make way for outdoor tennis courts.
"Our goal is to prevent further construction beyond the tennis courts," said
MGFE member Molly Tsongas, who graduated in 2000. "We want to give
everybody hope and put a fire in their bellies," explained Tsongas, the daughter
of late Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas.
This weekend's protests marked the latest round of a battle that has been
raging on and off for more than 13 years. The controversy began in the early
1990s when the school proposed a major construction project to build new
athletic facilities including eight tennis courts on school-owned land in
Estabrook Woods. After many years and many legal challenges, construction
finally began in July and is scheduled to continue for the next several years.
Middlesex School Headmaster Kathy Giles said that while she disagrees
with the opposition, she respects the passion of their convictions.
"We want to try to respect what they're doing because their hearts are in the
right place. We want to teach our kids that even if you don't agree with
someone, you still respect them," she said.
Giles, in her third year as headmaster, defended the project, noting that the
school has made a number of concessions in response to local concerns.
"We believe the school has come up with a plan that meets our needs with
the lowest possible impact," she said.
According to Giles, through mediation the school agreed to place 119 out of
a possible 200 acres of the land under conservation restriction. In addition,
Giles said that the school amended the original construction plan to reduce the
environmental impact on the surrounding woods, including reducing the size of
the access bridge and switching to artificial turf for the athletic fields.
"Although artificial turf doubles the cost of the field project, it virtually
eliminates the risk of problems with water run-off containing pesticides and
fertilizers," Giles wrote in a recent letter to alumni.
The school began construction on the tennis courts this summer after the
amended plan was approved by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, a
decision that has since been appealed by opposition groups. Giles said that
six of the eight tennis courts have been completed, but the school will hold
construction of the final two courts pending the outcome of the appeal.
While the project appears to be moving ahead, neither of the opposition
groups are ready to give up on their cause just yet.
"Everybody is still just as engaged as they were 13 years ago. It's a real up
for us that there's still that much concern," said Dwyer.
As for the MGFE, Tsongas said the ongoing construction will only strengthen
"As the trees come down, we're only going to get louder," she said. "This
problem won't just go away."