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Many communities in region find support for new facilities

New athletic facilities designed for multiple sports on artificial turf fields funded by private-private partnerships have become a trend across the region.

In Marblehead, a privately funded $975,000 renovation of Sergeant Christopher Piper Field was completed earlier this month.

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“When it was a grass field, it was reserved mostly for [high school] football,” said Steve Maxwell, a director of the Marblehead All-Sports Foundation, who noted that in addition to high school soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey, it is now being used for a full slate of youth sports. “It’s increased the amount of available playing time by a ton.”

Wakefield installed artificial turf at three fields during the spring, including Landrigan Field at the high school.

In Malden, the city unveiled a new multipurpose turf field at Macdonald Stadium in 2012, and is planning to build another at South Broadway Park in time for games in the spring.

Some communities have included multiuse artificial turf fields in school construction projects, as with new high schools in Manchester-Essex and Beverly. Others, like Gloucester, have turned to public-private financing. The Institution for Savings has pledged $500,000 toward an artificial turf field to be installed as part of Newburyport’s World War Memorial Stadium project.

The bank donated $100,000 to renovations made on the home side of the stadium four years ago, according to Mary Anne Clancy, vice president of communications for the bank and cochairwoman for Restore, the group spearheading the Newburyport project.

‘When it was a grass field, it was reserved mostly for [high school] football. It’s increased the amount of available playing time by a ton.’

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In 2011, it pledged $525,000 for a new stadium at Triton Regional High School in Newbury.

In the Pentucket Regional School District, officials are working on a plan to update and improve the facilities on the middle school-high school campus in West Newbury. While the communities that are part of the district, which also include Groveland, and Merrimac, already have agreed to provide $700,000 to fund bleachers, tennis courts, and a track, the full plan is still being formulated, according to Pentucket business manager Michael Bergeron.

It could include a public-private partnership and no decision has been made on including an artificial turf field, although “There’s a lot of strong support for it,” Bergeron said.

Dan Thornton athletic director at Pentucket, noted that the poor shape of the track forces the team to run all of its meets away, and that the field hockey team plays home games at the Amesbury Sports Park.

“That takes the life out of our fields, because everything’s off site,” Thornton said.

Proponents of the artificial turf fields said having a field that can maintain a heavy schedule of games without showing wear and tear alleviates the stress put on a town’s other fields. Artificial turf fields don’t get muddy, and don’t develop ruts.

“You can also play in the rain, to the chagrin of some students,” said Paul Murphy, assistant principal at Manchester-Essex High School, where the field was built as part of a building project completed in 2009. “We can play if it’s pouring. The only time we cancel is if there’s lightning.”

The schedule of use can get heavy. Lynn’s Manning Field hosts four high school football teams, 10 varsity soccer teams, and three youth football programs on its artificial turf. The track also is used by recreational walkers and runners.

“The amount of play is phenomenal,” said John Kasian, facilities manager for the Agganis Athletic Complex, which includes Fraser Field, a baseball facility that hosts five high school programs and the North Shore Navigators. He estimates that the complex handles an average of 125,000 to 150,000 players and patrons per year. If a traditional field saw similar activity, he said, “after a week and a half, there’d be no grass left.”

In North Reading, the installation of new turf on the high school field predated building a new school. Wilmington is adding new turf to an existing field as part of its high school project.

Not every attempt for a new field is successful. In Swampscott, a plan to rebuild Blocksidge Field failed to pass at Town Meeting in 2012 despite a private-public funding plan that would not have triggered a property tax increase. A new plan has been developed that may go before voters in the future.

In Tewksbury, residents approved a $950,000 artificial turf field at May’s Town Meeting. Donors stepped up to provide $50,000 in private funding. In a 2012 townwide vote, residents rejected a $1.94 million plan for a sports complex that would have required a debt exclusion.

Brenda Buote contributed to this report. David Rattigan may be reached at DRat-
tigan.Globe@gmail.com
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