NEWBURYPORT — Five months after pledging more than a half-million dollars to repair the Triton Regional School District stadium in Byfield, the Institution for Savings is funneling at least $500,000 into the next phase of the restoration of Newburyport's World War Memorial Stadium.
The bank announced yesterday that it will donate at least a half-million dollars toward replacing the stadium's natural turf field with a synthetic surface.
The gift will fund the second of a three-phase restoration effort that's been under way since portions of the stadium were condemned in 2002.
Restore our Stadium director Mary Anne Clancy, who has worked for the past five years to raise money to restore the stadium's historic grandstands and field, said the bank's gift effectively ensures a new field at the stadium will become a reality.
"What they really want to give is the gift of a finished field," said Clancy, who also works as vice president of communications for Institution for Savings.
The visitor and home stands of World War Memorial Stadium were constructed in 1938 by local work crews employed through Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration.
Clancy and her team were able to raise enough money from alumni, Community Preservation funds and other charitable donations to cover $450,000 in renovations to the home stands last summer.
While the Institution for Savings' $100,000 donation was among the early contributors to that first phase of the project, Clancy said the bank wanted to do more. The field, which has become known over the years as the "mud bowl," was where bank officials felt they could effect the greatest change.
Clancy said RESTORE requested a general contribution of $500,000, but Institution officials offered to cover the full cost of the new field.
Original estimates for re-sodding the field with synthetic material came in at around $900,000, but recent estimates received by neighboring Triton have brought the anticipated cost closer to $750,000. Clancy said the city will continue to attempt to reduce the cost to about $500,000, but if those efforts fail, she said the bank has promised to pay the difference.
"We're going to do our due diligence to get the price as low as we can with a high-quality field," she said. "If that price comes in higher than the $500,000, (the Institution) would be willing to pay the remaining cost so they can actually gift the entire field to us."
In return, the city will recognize the contribution by naming the finished turf the Institution for Savings Field at World War Memorial Stadium.
"Like many of the larger local projects we support, such as Anna Jaques Hospital's expansion and Nock Middle School's science lab renovation, this one just makes perfect sense," Michael Jones, chief executive officer of the Institution for Savings, said.
"This historic stadium is not just an important part of Newburyport's past, but it will play an integral role in its future as a state-of-the-art community venue that can be used and enjoyed by generations of Newburyport families and residents for years to come. We're thrilled to be able to help bring this project one step closer to completion."
Clancy said the new field surface will provide more opportunities for play into the evening seven days a week, accommodating both practices and games.
The surface, featuring a rubbery underside made of recycled tires, will also be easier to maintain over its expected 10- to 15-year lifespan, she said. It does not require watering, reseeding or mowing, she said.
"It's (currently) a natural turf, which is always a wonderful surface, but because we use the field so much, it doesn't take many uses before it starts to get torn up," Clancy said. "By Thanksgiving day, it's a mess. We use the stadium a lot."
The cost of equipment needed to maintain the synthetic field is included in the cost estimates that have been received.
"There's a sweeping process you do and rake it," she said. "You wash it down on a regular basis, but maintenance certainly is not as much as it is for natural turf."
Before the turf can be installed, there are still decisions to be made regarding the visitors' side of the stadium, which is condemned. Clancy said she doesn't expect the field will be replaced and readied for play until fall 2013.
In the meantime, the community is being asked to weigh in on the future of the visitor grandstand at a public meeting on Thursday, April 5, at 7 p.m. in City Hall Auditorium on Pleasant Street.