BEVERLY — Softball may soon move back to the Beverly High School campus.
The City Council will be asked in an upcoming meeting to allocate $225,000 from city reserves to build two softball fields with an irrigation system underneath in the area known as "the pit" — an empty field behind the tennis courts used for football practice. The School Committee approved the project earlier this week.
"This has been the plan all along to have fields down in that area," Mayor Mike Cahill said.
Softball hasn't been played on the Sohier Road campus since before the new high school opened in 2010. The team has been using Innocenti Park on McPherson Drive.
Councilors also will be asked to approve spending $300,000 to resurface the high school track; the current surface is nearly 20 years old. Another $300,000 will be needed to replace switches at the high school that control when the building uses power from the nearby Greenergy Park Solar Field, on the hill overlooking the school. The switches there now have not worked properly since the school was built, so the school can't tap into the alternative power source.
As for the softball fields, the plan includes one varsity field with dugouts and an outfield fence, Cahill said, and a second field that may not have the same amenities but could be used for junior varsity games. There are no plans to have lighting at the fields.
High school officials will work with coaches to make sure the softball field installation isn't disruptive to other sports.
"They'll go in as quickly as we can get them built," Cahill said.
The city had planned to pay for the softball fields with payments the city would receive under a proposed solar panel installation at the high school. But those plans fell through.
City Councilor Estelle Rand said she's "very excited" for the new fields to be built. Rand raised the question during a City Council meeting in the spring, asking why girls' softball fields hadn't been built on the school campus equivalent to the baseball fields the boys have.
"I think it's obviously the right thing to do, and I think it's a good use of free cash (reserves)," she said, "especially if it means bringing the girls' sports up to a level of service and a level that matches what we do for the boys' sports."
The new track surface is set to be installed before fall sports start.
School Committee member Lorinda Visnick, whose son runs track, said the surface now "isn't horrible."
"Over the years, the sun beating down on it, it gets more brittle," she said. "There's some cracks in it, but it's not unusable."
Arianna MacNeill can be reached at 978-338-2527 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @SN_AMacNeill.