PEABODY — He hasn’t quite crossed the goal line, but Mayor Ted Bettencourt believes he’s driving for a touchdown on his quest to construct a $1.36 million turf field at Peabody High School.
“I’m feeling real optimistic,” he said. “Though I can’t say it’s 100 percent just yet.”
While drumming up donations from “a number of businesses,” Bettencourt wants to combine these with contributions from both the city’s Community Preservation Committee and the annual budget. He hopes to announce the coming replacement of the high school field in December.
“I’m just thrilled for the kids of Peabody that they’re going to have this opportunity,” said athletic director Phil Sheridan. Turf fields have significant advantages over natural grass, he said.
Making this happen has involved help from consultants from Huntress Associates, which also worked to establish fields in neighboring Salem and Marblehead, said the mayor. The field itself would cost $668,000, he said. New lights would require spending $300,000, a new track surrounding the field $250,000, with another $200,000 for various contingencies.
The field would be installed between graduation ceremonies in June and the first football game in September. The mayor stressed that the facility would be multipurpose.
“I do not want it to be just a football field,” he said. It would be open for soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, flag football and youth football.
“The Community Preservation Committee is not allowed (by law) to pay for the purchase of a field,” Bettencourt said. But its funds can go to drainage and other work on the site.
At this time, Bettencourt is unable to name the businesses willing to donate to the project, he said.
Turf fields have improved dramatically since a prototype was installed in the Houston Astrodome in 1966.
Early fields were hard. Baseball players learned to deal with balls taking huge bounces, while football players resigned themselves to hitting a hard surface.
Astroturf, Sheridan said, involved “putting cement down. And a cushion and some green stuff over the top.”
Today’s turf is a blend of cushioning materials carefully calibrated for football or soccer or something in between. While the 10-year lifespan might seem short, Sheridan said it will get a lot more use than grass fields because turf can quickly drain water. With even a short period of rain, “I have standing water everywhere,” he said.
The staff is often reduced to throwing a drying agent on the wet spots. In football season, the grass deteriorates as the year progresses, and “I’ll be standing up to my ankles in mud. ... Somebody’s going to get hurt on that,” he said. The turf field also sheds snow more quickly, allowing spring sports to proceed.
On the negative side, some have found fault with turf, complaining, for example, that it generates excessive heat and its plastic blades sustain bacteria.
Referencing an earlier controversy about selling the name of the field, Bettencourt said, “In no way are naming rights a part of this. I will not ask the city or the School Committee to rename the field.”
School board member Beverley Griffin Dunne was among those strongly objecting to the possibility that Veterans Memorial High School would carry any names not associated with veterans. Thus, Coley Lee Field, named after a Vietnam veteran, will remain, as will the George Smyrnois Track, honoring a former athletic director and veteran.
Alan Burke can be reached at email@example.com.