By Bethany Bray
---- — Salem and Marblehead were each awarded $400,000 grants yesterday through a state program designated to enhance and create parks and recreational areas.
Salem’s grant will help renovate the track and install synthetic turf at Bertram Field, Salem High School’s main football stadium. In Marblehead, the funds will go toward the purchase of the former Chadwick Lead Mills property to create a recreation area.
Rick Sullivan, Massachusetts secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, awarded the grants during a brief ceremony yesterday afternoon at Salem City Hall. Projects in East Boston, Brookline, Chelsea, Lynn and Somerville also received grants through the Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities, or PARC, program.
PARC is a matching program, so the local municipalities will contribute funding equal or greater to the grant amount for each project, said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll.
Bertram Field, behind Collins Middle School, is used by SHS athletics as well as youth sports programs. The upgrades proposed for the complex will allow more people to use the field, said Driscoll.
“This will take what is a very nice facility and upgrade it to a superb facility,” she said.
Lead Mills, a 4.9 acre site area along the Forest River at the Salem/Marblehead line, was used as a lead mill beginning in the 19th century. A former owner of the property, National Lead Mill of Dallas, paid for cleanup and decontamination of the site in 2011.
“The word ‘beautiful’ isn’t a word we’ve been able to use for that property for a long time,” said state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, at yesterday’s ceremony.
Marblehead Selectman Judy Jacobi said the property will be used for “passive recreation,” such as walking trails. The idea has been years in coming, Jacobi said, and is a collaboration between Salem, Marblehead and the nonprofit Essex County Greenbelt Association.
“(This is) the fruits of a team effort,” she said, “and an incredible Christmas gift.”
In Salem, Bertram Field is property of the public school department. To accept the grant, the property must be under city control.
This means the schools will have to cede control of Bertram Field, such as scheduling and maintenance, to the parks and recreation department, said School Committee Member Nate Bryant.
The School Committee is expected to discuss the issue at its next meeting on Jan. 7.
“We’ve always had a great relationship with parks and rec, and I can’t imagine that changing,” Bryant said.
The Bertram Field renovation is expected to cost over $1 million. Salem City Planner Tom Devine wrote the grant application.
It’s hard to say when renovations could begin, said Driscoll; it’s most likely they would have to be scheduled around the school year.
Designs for the project need to be finalized before the work contract can go out to bid, she said.
“This (grant) is a big help to make some upgrades — just to be able to get so much more use (out of the complex),” Driscoll said.
Bryant has first-hand knowledge of the need for improvement at Bertram Field. He has one daughter who plays soccer at Salem High School, and another daughter, now in college, who ran track at SHS.
“There are some schools in our conference who refused to compete on our track, that’s how bad it is,” Bryant said. “It has cracks, it’s in desperate need of repair ... I’m definitely in support of (accepting the grant).”
The switch to artificial turf will save on upkeep costs, Bryant added.
Salem Youth Lacrosse has requested permission to use Bertram Field and spoke in support of the PARC grant at a previous School Committee meeting, said Artie Sullivan, a coach with the league.
“We’ve been nomads. We haven’t had a home site, per se,” Sullivan said. “Opening up Bertram Field with synthetic turf would allow our program to grow and develop.”
Currently, Salem Youth Lacrosse has about 80 kids involved, Sullivan said.
Leaders from each of the seven communities receiving grants attended yesterday’s ceremony at Salem City Hall, including Marblehead Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren and state Sen. Thomas McGee, D-Lynn.
Sullivan awarded a total of $2.7 million in PARC grants yesterday. The program is “near and dear” to Gov. Deval Patrick’s heart, he said.
“At the end of the day these open spaces ... are important to the quality of life in a city or town,” Sullivan said.
Salem High School Athletic Director Scott Connolly was out of the office yesterday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.