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Playing the field

Schools aiming to replace aging sports facilities look to a variety of private, public, and business sources to fund multisport stadiums

Gloucester High School’s new $3.8 million New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium opened  earlier this month.

Lisa Poole for the Boston Globe

Gloucester High School’s new $3.8 million New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium opened earlier this month.

W

hen more than 2,000 people turned out to cut the ribbon on the new stadium project in Gloucester, some saw it as more than just the chance to play on a new field.

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“Everybody felt a part of it,” said Mayor Carolyn Kirk. “That was one of the most satisfying moments for me, to see all of those pieces fall into place in a celebration of community.”

Kirk and the City Council helped advance the cause led by the Gloucester Fishermen Athletic Association by lending the city’s expertise and also making an early pledge of $1.5 million toward the private-public project that was renamed New Balance Track and Field at Newell Stadium.

As Jonathan Pope, former president of the athletic association, said, “It’s easy to get the last $100,000, but hard to get the first $100,000 for a $3 million project.”

Funds for the project — which cost $3.8 million — were cobbled together from a variety of public and private sources over three years, including $500,000 from New Balance (whose chairman and owner, Jim Davis, lives in Gloucester) for naming rights over 10 years.

The Gloucester stadium is the latest in a line of multiuse artificial turf field projects throughout the region, and an example of the innovative financial packages being used to pay for them.

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The field, which made its ceremonial debut with the football home opener earlier this month, is being used by all the fall sports programs. And it’s getting rave reviews.

“The community is grateful,” said Pope, who is also chairman of the School Committee. He noted that once the game started, the crowd filled the 2,200-seat stadium and many more were standing on the sidelines.

“When we had the grand opening, the kids were just bubbling over. That was tremendous.”

Pope tallied the stadium’s many funding sources, including the contribution from New Balance; public and private grants; donations from private individuals; $1.5 million bonded by the city; $150,000 from the Dusky Foundation (which supports community causes, particularly on Cape Ann); $308,000 from the city’s Community Preservation Act funds; and $500,000 from the Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities program, which is funded federally and distributed by the state.

The athletic association led an effort that produced about $300,000 from small donors and fund-raising, including an initiative where donors pledged $200 annually over five years. Gorton’s, Cape Ann Savings Bank, and Bank Gloucester paid $50,000 each for a corner of the stadium scoreboard, Pope added. The athletic association gave the Dusky Foundation the remaining corner.

“This project touched a lot of people, and a lot of people and businesses contributed,” Kirk said.

First used as an athletic field in 1923 and built into a stadium in 1935, Newell has been in desperate need of repairs. It had no working bathrooms, the bleachers were falling down, and the track was in such poor condition, it could not be used for practices or meets.

Now the Gloucester football team — which won Super Bowl titles in 2007, 2009, and 2010 — has a new turf field on which to make another playoff bid.

Meanwhile in Lynnfield, a committee has drafted a plan that is even more ambitious than the one carried out in Gloucester. The cost — projected at $8.75 million — also will be paid for in part by fund-raising and donations.

“We have some commitments already, from a couple of different places,” said, Arthur Bourque, chairman of the town’s Recreational Field Study Committee, who acknowledged that as Gloucester proved, there is precedent for private support of large community initiatives.

Referring to what New Balance’s Davis did in Gloucester, Bourque said: “I’m hopeful that somebody like that will step up in Lynnfield. We certainly have people in town that are capable of doing that type of thing, and we’re hoping that they step up.”

On Monday, the Board of Selectmen is scheduled to vote on whether to ask residents at the Oct. 21 Town Meeting to approve $250,000 for an engineering study to get the ball rolling on a plan to improve fields and facilities at seven locations. The plan includes building a new track and an artificial turf field at the middle school, and installing three artificial turf fields with lights at the high school, where other fields will be rebuilt and a stand-alone building for concession stands with bathrooms, locker rooms, a trainer’s room, and storage will be constructed.

Noting that he can’t speak for the entire board, chairman Phil Crawford said that discussion about the plan has been, “all favorable from day one.”

Bourque, who is also the town moderator, said the hope is $2 million to $3 million of the project’s cost will come from private fund-raising.

The proposal comes as Lynnfield is set to receive additional tax revenue estimated as high as $2 million annually from the recently opened MarketStreet Lynnfield development. Some of that revenue will be earmarked for the athletic project.

The rest of the funding will come from public and private sources.

“We have a need that I’ve been trying to address since I was on the board in 1992,” said Bourque, a former selectman whose daughters, now 27 and 32, played sports in Lynnfield.

Of the proposed $6.44 million in town funding, Crawford said $2.5 million will come from existing accounts generated from land sales, and the town will seek a bond for $3.9 million, which will likely cost $350,000 per year.

It would be paid back with $150,000 from the town’s municipal golf course enterprise account, and approximately $200,000 from tax revenue generated by MarketStreet Lynnfield.

The rest of the total will come from private fund-raising.

The project stems from a community study conducted by Gale Associates of Weymouth that considered the level of interest in a variety of recreational activities, including those for high school sports, dog parks, skateboard parks, and walking trails in Lynnfield.

That was followed by an assessment of all of the town’s recreational facilities, several of which displayed signs of wear and disrepair.

“We went through every single sport,” Bourque said. “We also included our playgrounds, our basketball courts, and tennis courts. There wasn’t anything we didn’t touch that had ‘recreation’ around it.”

Bourque and some others plan to form a nonprofit support group in advance of Town Meeting that will — if the $250,000 is approved — begin raising funds. While Bourque said it was premature to discuss fund-raising strategies before that group is formed, he said there have been positive discussions with local businesses and individuals.

Bourque investigated other stadium and field projects, such as Needham’s $7 million public-private “Fields of Dreams” project that added lights, a track, drainage, and two artificial turf fields along with rebuilding natural grass fields at two parks. As part of a $5 million fund-raising effort, some of the fields were named for donors.

Bourque is optimistic about community support.

“There are times in the life of every community where you have an opportunity to make a significant change, and this is one of them in Lynnfield,” he said. “We’ve never cheaped out on how we treat our senior citizens, we’ve never cheaped out on how we do education in the community, we’ve never cheaped out on the way we run any part of the community. This is an opportunity.”

David Rattigan may be reached at DRattigan.Globe@ gmail.com.

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