A sparsely developed athletics complex in Allston soon will undergo a dramatic transformation to expand its uses and appeal to community members of all ages and varying interests.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust are set to break ground Monday on the $6.5 million renovation of William F. Smith Field, a collaboration between Harvard and the city that may be emblematic of thawing relations between the Ivy League university and the middle-income neighbors of its expanded presence south of the Charles.
The project will add an inviting new entrance on the park’s Western Avenue side, along with an amphitheater, tot lot, splash pond, street hockey court, and new lighting, benches, walking paths, and other amenities.
“Smith historically has been more of an athletic complex that people from other communities might come visit,” said Christopher Cook, commissioner of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. With its new features, he said, the park “is also going to have this great community gathering space.”
The renovation is an outgrowth of the 2013 Institutional Master Plan process for Harvard’s expansion into Allston, which has faced opposition from some neighborhood residents, as well as frustration with repeated delays that have left some planned development stalled for years.
It will be paid for with a mix of city dollars, Harvard funding, and money from the Harvard Allston Public Realm Flexible Fund, which supports neighborhood beautification projects and other efforts to improve residents’ quality of life.
Lea Beaulieu, who has lived in Allston for almost five years and serves on the fund’s planning committee, said the park will give the neighborhood “some really cool areas.”
“I’m very excited about this, especially since the neighborhood is growing, a lot of new people are coming in, and we need a park,” she said. “We need a park to call our own.”
Beaulieu said the new features will give small children a place to play, offer a wider variety of athletic fields and surfaces, provide performers a space to demonstrate their talents, and make the park safer for visitors.
She said Harvard has been a good partner with community members, and the university understands that making improvements in the neighborhood benefits its staff and students as well as their neighbors.
“I’ve been really impressed with them having the task force, being really involved, and letting us know what’s going on,” she said. “Being really engaged with the community . . . and really wanting to hear from the community.”
In a statement, Walsh thanked Faust and Harvard for helping to create a “dynamic public space” in Allston. “Parks and green spaces are gems in our communities,” Walsh said. “Whether residents use it for a game of soccer, a quiet place to take a walk or study, or see a performance at the amphitheater, I have no doubt that Smith Field will be treasured by all those in Allston.”
Faust called the park “a special place in the heart of an extraordinary community” in a separate statement.
“Public parks provide an important reminder of our responsibilities to our environment, to our neighborhoods and to each other,” she said. “I know that a newly renovated Smith Field will continue to strengthen the ties of campus and community that are so meaningful to both Harvard and to our neighbors in Allston.”