By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — With Bertram Field off-limits, Salem High School’s football teams will be playing all their games out of town to start the season.
Bertram Field’s new artificial turf field is slated to be ready Nov. 1, two weeks later than originally expected.
The field’s $1.9 million renovation hit a snag when elevated levels of arsenic were discovered in the soil during pre-construction tests. The complex, behind Collins Middle School, is getting a new field, expanded running track, new scoreboard, flagpole and other upgrades.
Athletic Director Scott Connolly says he’s scheduling football, soccer and other fall sports games at alternative sites until then.
To start the season, soccer teams will be playing home games at McGrath Park; other teams are making do with fields at the high school. Junior varsity football teams will play their first month of games on the road.
Connolly said he’s still working on the varsity football schedule. They’ll have to play out of town until November, because Bertram is Salem’s only football field.
Through it all, he said, coaches, students and even opposing teams have been very understanding.
“Knowing what’s coming out of this, having a beautiful facility in Salem, we’ll do whatever we need to do,” Connolly said. “Everyone has been working together. It’s an amazing opportunity for the entire community to have this great field and track. We’ll do whatever we need to make that happen.”
The good news? The annual Salem-Beverly Thanksgiving football game will be in Salem this year, on the new field at Bertram.
Bertram Field was closed June 3 when the arsenic was discovered, and decontamination work — excavating and removing layers of soil from beneath the field — was scheduled to finish last week, Mayor Kim Driscoll said.
Workers have been able to do some preliminary projects, such as electrical work, during the decontamination. Now construction can begin in earnest, Driscoll said.
“It’s a challenge trying to get it done. It’s an aggressive schedule,” Driscoll said. “We’re pushing the envelope, but we think it’s manageable.”
Bertram Field’s visitors’ stands were removed during construction, and it’s looking like they won’t be replaced in this round of work. The track is being expanded to regulation size of 400 meters; the new track will run through where the visitors’ stands used to be.
Any extra wiggle room in the project budget has gone toward soil decontamination, Driscoll said.
“Visitors’ stands are always something we could add later,” she said.
Connolly said he’d prefer to have visitors’ stands, of course, but “we’ll make it work” without them.
“The nice thing is that our home bleachers have a capacity of about 5,000. For 99 percent of our games, that’s sufficient,” he said.
City councilors approved a $1.9 million bond for renovations and upgrades at Bertram Field in May. A state grant will cover $400,000 of the work; the city is responsible for the remaining $1.5 million.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.