By John Castelluccio
---- — PEABODY — After the last charitable relay team completes its final circuit and all the tents are packed up, the heavy machinery will roll onto Coley Lee Field to excavate the site and prepare it for a layer of artificial turf.
Quirk Construction Corp. of Georgetown was just awarded the contract to install the Peabody High turf field, after submitting a low bid of $1.3 million.
Graduation is May 30. The annual Peabody Relay for Life is June 6 and 7. Construction will begin June 8 and last for three months.
“If all things go smoothly, we will be having football and soccer games at the high school in the fall,” Mayor Ted Bettencourt said.
“It’s like a dream come true,” said Peabody Athletic Director Phil Sheridan.
School officials have talked about replacing the football field for years, bemoaning the muddy mess the field becomes every time there’s a good rain. The sod often takes days to dry out, and because there’s a lot of clay in the soil, the field doesn’t drain well. There’s also lots of ledge.
All those factors lead to hazardous conditions and injured athletes, not to mention the scheduling headaches of finding alternate sites. At times, games just have to be canceled. An artificial turf field should remove all those problems.
“It’s like comparing apples with filet mignon,” Sheridan said, referring to the grass field first installed 40 years ago and the new turf. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the field in boots, spreading Speedi Dry, only to watch it float away because there was so much water on the field.”
He expects the high school athletic fields to “take a beating” over the next two years, when they will be used more while the new middle school is built. But the new turf will absorb a lot of the wear and tear.
Bettencourt and design consultant Chris Huntress of Huntress Associates briefed the School Committee on the project last week.
“I think it’s really going to enhance Peabody High School. ... I think it’s just going to be something the whole city can rally around and be proud of,” Rossignoll said. “That football field has a 3-foot crown on it. ... It’s built on ledge.”
Temporary repairs were made to the field recently by adding a soil mix and fixing areas where sod eroded. City officials considered seeking a $500,000 state grant to help pay for the turf, but that effort was benched in 2011 because the city’s open space plan was outdated, and there was no immediate plan to update it.
Bettencourt took the reins on the project and promised last year to have the turf field installed and ready for play by this fall.
Sheridan said the installation should be a smooth process. Test pits were dug, and the ledge is about 18 inches below the surface, which is apparently just enough room to install the turf, he said.
In addition to the new turf field, the track will be replaced, new lights will be installed, new fencing will be added, and the press box will be refurbished.
The project was funded by $400,000 in community preservation money, city resources and part of a $1 million payment in lieu of taxes from Peabody Municipal Light Plant.
The turf will have to be replaced every 10 years at a cost of $400,000, and that doesn’t include specialized cleaning and maintenance. Bettencourt said he intends to put aside funds for a maintenance program. A large piece of the initial cost is site work — anchoring the turf with concrete footings and properly draining the field.
Sheridan said the price tag may seem high, but it’s not cheap to properly maintain grass fields, either — they need to be reseeded, aerated, mowed, watered, etc. In the end, the per-use cost of a turf field is less than half that of a grass field, he said.
Salem, Beverly and Marblehead have installed turf fields in recent years, and Danvers is planning a new athletic stadium with turf.
You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, email@example.com or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.