Stadiums in line for state funds

High school sports stadiums in Methuen and Revere will be rebuilt or expanded with the help of $3.2 million in matching grant money from the state’s Gateway Cities park program.

Meanwhile, the state last week named Peabody a Gateway city after a five-year review of the city’s economic data showed the median household income fell to $65, 471.

The state created the Gateway Cities program in 2010 to boost the economy in the state’s urban areas. Cities must have a population of 35,000 to 250,000; a median household income less than the $65,841 state average; and no more than 38.7 percent of the adult population have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the state Department of Housing and Economic Development.

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In Peabody, Mayor Ted Bettencourt said he was surprised by the designation, and is unsure about how it will impact the city of 50,824 residents.

“It could give us access to resources and grant money that we might not have been in line for,” said Bettencourt, who planned to meet with state officials to learn more. “I’m hopeful it will provide a helping hand for us.”

Gateway Cities are eligible for special state funds for education, housing, recreation, transportation, and other public services. They are also given special consideration when applying for other statewide funds, officials said.

Other local Gateway Cities are Chelsea, Everett, Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, and Salem.

Methuen is in line for $500,000 to build a clubhouse, with new locker rooms and a concession stand, to replace a facility built in 1938 at Nicholson Stadium.

Revere was awarded $2.7 million to rebuild Harry Della Russo Stadium, which would get a new turf athletic field and running track and its first significant upgrade since the facility was built in 1935.

Mayors in both cities said the Gateways grants, which require a local match, are critical to improve high school sports and community recreation.

“We don’t have a YMCA or any other type of real recreation center in Revere,” said Mayor Daniel Rizzo. “Our football stadium is probably 30 years overdue for a renovation. . . . We will have a track where we can host meets, and [which] our residents can also use.”

“We applied so that we could move this project forward,” said Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni, noting that a private fund-raising effort raised $20,000. “If we weren’t a Gateway city, we probably wouldn’t get this funding.”

Methuen and Revere’s stadium grants were awarded from the Gateway Cities Parks Program, run by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs .

“We look to fund projects that we think can make a difference in a community,” said Kurt Gaertner, director of the Gateway parks program. The program, which receives $6.3 million in annual funding, has set a goal to build or restore parks in each Gateway city, he said.

In the spring, the agency will cut the ribbon on a renovated Spicket River Greenway in Lawrence, which received a $2.6 million grant, Gaertner noted.

“Not every project is that large,” he said. “We will work on projects for parks of all sizes.”

Gaertner said both stadium projects would have broad public impact. Each are required to be accessible for people with disabilities.

“These projects will allow use for other sports, and improve facilities that will enhance public use,” he added.

Methuen started a private fund-raising effort in 2007 to build a new clubhouse at Nicholson Stadium. The effort raised about $20,000, and local bricklayers and plumbers donated their time to build the foundation and install plumbing, Zanni said.

The new 4,000-square-foot clubhouse would be built on that foundation. The city will launch a new campaign to raise $250,000 in private funds required for the Gateway grant.

“We’ll be looking for donors,” Zanni said.

The clubhouse is the first of a three-phase project to improve the stadium, he said. A turf field and new bleachers on the visitors’ side also are planned, with the city likely applying for future Gateways grants.

In Revere, the new Harry Della Russo Stadium is estimated to cost a total of $5.5 million. The grass football field now regularly floods and the running track is undersized, requiring Revere High to compete in track meets on the road, Rizzo said.

The stadium’s artificial turf field also would be used by the school’s soccer and lacrosse teams. A new running track would allow Revere High to host home track meets for the first time in years, he added.

On March 11, the City Council will hold a public hearing on a request to approve a loan to cover the city’s share of the cost. The city has set an ambitious construction timeline. If the loan is approved, bids will be advertised by July, with the goal of starting construction in November, Rizzo said.

“We’ll let the high school and Pop Warner teams get through their seasons,” he said. “We’re aiming to have it ready by the time the 2014 season rolls around. “

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