By Bethany Bray
---- — City officials closed Bertram Field yesterday, after soil tests showed elevated levels of arsenic.
Preliminary soil tests were being done to prepare for the field’s upcoming renovation project. Arsenic was found 6 inches below the field’s surface.
The field, Salem High School’s main football stadium, is located behind Collins Middle School.
“Thankfully, it’s not the busiest time of use for that facility,” Mayor Kim Driscoll said yesterday. “Unfortunately, this is not uncommon for urban areas, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not concerned.”
Superintendent of Schools Stephen Russell said Bertram Field was closed and locked yesterday, and signs were posted.
“We have no knowledge of any immediate risk to students,” Russell said in an email to The Salem News.
The city is currently seeking bids for renovation work at Bertram Field, including the installation of an artificial turf field and expansion of the running track. City councilors recently approved a $1.9 million bond for the project; work is expected to be done July through September.
The contamination shouldn’t delay the project, Driscoll said, but it will increase the cost because environmental protocols will have to be followed as the field is excavated. The city will work with a consultant from the Department of Environmental Protection to do further testing and create a plan to address the problem.
“It will increase the cost — we’re trying to get our arms around how much,” Driscoll said yesterday. “This is an area of soil that was going to be removed anyway (during renovations).”
This is not the first time contaminated soil has been found during a city renovation project.
McGrath Park, a popular youth soccer complex on Marlborough Road, was closed in 2011 after soil tests found elevated levels of lead and cadmium. A renovation project eventually capped the contaminated soil and constructed new sports fields, playgrounds and other amenities at the park.
Renovations at Furlong Park on Franklin Street were temporarily stalled in 2010 as lead and other chemicals were found in the soil.
“Just about every park project we’ve undertaken in Salem has some type of hazardous materials,” Driscoll said yesterday. “We know the rules and regulations, and we’re working through (the DEP) ... We’re familiar with the process.”
“I think we are being cautious (in closing Bertram Field), but I’d rather be safe than sorry,” she said.
Bids for the Bertram Field renovation work are due June 13.
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.