By Dyke Hendrickson
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The Community Preservation Commission Thursday night voted to recommend an expenditure of $1.5 million to demolish the north stands at the high school football stadium and develop a multi-purpose athletic field on the site.
The measure will be sent to the City Council for final action.
The proposal had widespread backing of students, coaches and citizen groups, and the commission agreed to a financial plan forwarded by Mayor Donna Holaday.
That proposal requested that the funds be created through floating a bond, with the CPC standing behind the financial obligation.
The commission has used this means before; one bonded project resulted in improvements to City Hall.
”I am very pleased that the CPC voted to recommend the bonding project,” said Lise Reid, municipal parks director who will be a project manager. “It has been a long road for the city and for the Restore Our Port Pride citizens group that has been working on the project.”
It is unclear when the project can start, if approved by the council.
City officials had talked of starting in the late spring, so much of the demolition could take place in the summer when students have left the premises.
”I think that Restore Our Port Pride would love this project started tomorrow,” said Sean Reardon, a key organizer of the initiative. “But there are preparations that need to happen and we should know more after the vote of the City Council.”
The proposal involves tearing down the north stands of the football stadium at the high school, which haven’t been used in years because of their deteriorating condition.
That would enable engineers to develop a larger athletic field that would permit football, soccer and lacrosse. Organizers have called for synthetic turf, which holds up better in foul weather and heavy use.
The stadium was constructed in the mid-’30s and named the World War Memorial Stadium to mark the participation of local soldiers in World War I.
Partly because there was a patriotic theme to its creation, some community residents had opposed the demolition of the stands. Also, some ex-athletes who had played high school football there said they felt demolition would erase memories of part of their high school experience.
But numerous city officials noted that the north stands would cost more to repair than to demolish. In connection, the south stands have been refurbished and are capable of seating all those who arrive to see athletic events.
Another reason that parents and coaches sought demolition and a new field is that many more students are playing sports — especially girls, who did not have teams to try out for decades ago.
“Finding ball fields is a priority,” Holaday said at one of several public meetings. “We want youngsters to play sports and we need to provide the fields.”
One proponent who has spent more than a decade attempting to upgrade the property is former Mayor Mary Anne Clancy. She launched an initiative to improve high school facilities, which resulted in an upgrade of the south stands.
Clancy recently was a key driver in the strategy to request that the CPC commit to the project.
“I am absolutely thrilled with the CPC’s unanimous approval of funding for the stadium and field project,” Clancy said Friday.
“We still need the all-important support of the City Council before we can officially pop any champagne corks, but we are one giant step closer to having a state-of-the-art World War Memorial Stadium of which our kids, our coaches, our veterans and our community can once again be proud.”
The CPC is a municipal organization that dispenses funding for community projects involved in history, recreation, open space and/or affordable housing.
Its funding comes from a 2 percent “surcharge” on local property taxes that voters approved about a decade ago.
Because the request for the ball field would be a significant expenditure, city officials requested the funding be generated through a bond.
City officials say the price of the project is about $2.2 million. Much of the expense would come from demolition ($640,000) and the synthetic turf field ($850,000). Major sources of funding would be from the bond ($1.5 million) and the Institution for Savings ($500,000, turf).