Leveling the playing field at Daly Field

For all I know, Daly Field in Brighton has a proud history of athletic glory. But for at least the past quarter-century, the 7-acre site along the Charles River has been mainly a rest stop for the neighborhood's pigeons.

The terrible condition of the state-owned site has been bad news for the community's young people. The poor condition of the field has forced Brighton High's football team to be itinerant for years. When the team practices in nearby Cleveland Circle, the players basically have to change under a tree. It's a sadly familiar scenario in our city, where facilities for high school sports are often deficient.


That could soon change. Simmons College and a neighborhood group called Friends of Daly Field have forged a $5 million partnership that won legislative approval earlier this year. The idea is to make Daly Field usable again.

But the project is in danger of being scrubbed or unreasonably delayed by Charles River environmentalists who complain that the state has cut too generous a deal.

Before we get to the complaints, here's what is proposed. Simmons College and Friends of Daly Field would lease the field from the state for 20 years, while paying for its renovation, which will include building facilities for football, soccer, field hockey, and tennis. The college would also pay the state $500,000. In exchange, Simmons's athletic teams, which are now without a permanent home, would use the field approximately a third of the time.

Brighton High's football and soccer teams would also have use of the field, while the community would use it the rest of the time. The state's Department of Conservation and Recreation would retain ownership of the field, though Simmons would be responsible for maintaining it.

That all sounds to me like a vast improvement over a huge vacant eyesore. But that is not the view of the Charles River Watershed Association, or of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, which have joined forces to oppose this project. They have complained to state agencies, opposed the necessary permits, and (unsuccessfully) encouraged lawmakers to reject the deal. They threaten to continue their opposition.


The opponents' main argument: They say Daly Field is worth much more than Simmons is paying to use it.

It's kind of rich, a group of well-heeled and well-connected environmentalists arguing that kids in Brighton are the beneficiaries of some Beacon Hill backroom deal. Yet that is their claim.

That the environmentalists risk coming across as insensitive elitists is not lost on them. In condemning the deal, they choose their words carefully.

"Daly Field is 7 acres of incredibly valuable riverfront property that is effectively going to be conveyed to a private party for zero dollars," said George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. "It's hard to understand why that's a good deal for the taxpayers."

In fact, the field is going to be leased to Simmons and its neighbors, not given away, as Bachrach implies. But he still maintains that the deal is one-sided.

"It will be a great marketing tool for a private university," Bachrach said. "Even if you take the glossiest view of this, why shouldn't they have to pay for the land?"

I would be remiss here not to point out that the Charles River Watershed Association has its own sweet deal with the state. It leases its 3,600-square-foot headquarters at the Leo J. Martin Golf Course in Weston for a mere $100 a month, plus maintenance.


The community group hopes renovation can begin in early spring, and completed in time for next football season. So far, the opponents haven't run out of appeals, or the desire to use them.

But this project deserves to move forward, now. "We have championship-caliber teams and we have no place to play or practice," Randolph Abraham, the school's head football coach, said Thursday. "It's time people started thinking about the kids."

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.