By Bethany Bray
---- — Salem High School athletes could be running on a regulation-size track next year.
City councilors have voted to approve a $1.9 million bond for renovations and upgrades at Bertram Field, including the installation of artificial turf and expansion of the track to 400 meters.
Bertram Field, Salem High’s football stadium, has a 370-meter track, which means it takes more than four laps to run a mile.
The bond will need a second vote of approval from the City Council before construction can begin.
If the project receives final approval, the city would collect bids for construction next month. Work would tentatively begin July 1 and be finished by Sept. 30.
“This is going to be a great facility for the city of Salem — a modernized facility with a multipurpose field,” Karen Partanen, Salem’s director of park, recreation and community services, said yesterday. “It’s definitely going to be a big asset for the city.”
Mayor Kim Driscoll said she hopes the council will vote second passage of the $1.9 million bond by the end of May. The board’s next scheduled meeting is May 23.
The council’s initial approval was unanimous. Councilors agreed improvements to the field and track at Bertram are much-needed and long overdue; many of them mentioned children, grandchildren — or even themselves — playing sports there.
Councilor William Legault said it’s embarrassing that the track is still as bad as when he was in high school.
“It was horrible in 1977, when I was a skinny kid with long hair (running at Bertram),” Legault said. “... This is long overdue. If we don’t do it this year, when are we going to do it?”
Several local coaches and parents of athletes attended last week’s council meeting to urge the board to approve the bond.
Resident Charles O’Donnell said the project would be an opportunity to make Bertram Field “a source of pride.”
Imagine having to explain to Marblehead track star Shalane Flanagan, who went on to run in the Olympics, that she had to run four and a quarter times around the track to finish a mile at track meets in Salem, said O’Donnell.
“These are the types of projects I want my tax dollars going to,” said Craig Mielcarz, a 1999 SHS graduate and track standout.
This winter Salem was awarded a $400,000 state grant for upgrades at Bertram Field. The city will be responsible for paying renovation costs that exceed the grant reimbursement.
The project will give the entire Bertram Field complex a makeover, installing an artificial turf field, replacing the track, scoreboard, flagpole and other features.
Expanding the track by 30 meters to regulation size requires the removal and relocation of the visitors’ stands. While that was expected to cost about $65,000, it’s looking like relocating those stands will cost a lot more, Driscoll said.
The task has been included as an “alternate” addition to the project, so the entire project won’t be delayed if cost estimates come in over budget.
This will be ironed out once bids are collected and the city has a more concrete idea of pricing, Driscoll said.
Bertram Field, located behind Collins Middle School, is used by Salem High athletics as well as youth sports programs.
Resident Steve Dibble, whose three sons have played football at Bertram Field, said the upgrade is “important to the community as a whole. ... This is the right thing to do.”
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.