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House, Senate pass controversial bill to let Simmons College renovate Daly Field in Brighton

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  August 2, 2012 12:06 PM

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State lawmakers voted this week to pass a controversial bill that will allow the state to lease Daly Field in Brighton to a private, nonprofit friends group and to have Simmons College renovate the run-down green space.

The legislation needs final approval from Gov. Deval Patrick to become law.

The bill has been criticized because it allows for the state to designate times when Simmons, Brighton High School and the Allston-Brighton Little League would have the chance to use the site, a set-up that some worry could severely restrict general public use. Others are concerned about potential environmental impacts of leasing the public Charles River waterfront property to a private entity.

Simmons would spend $5 million to renovate the property to create a multi-purpose outdoor sports complex with two new synthetic fields, a running track, tennis courts, river path, lighting for the entire parcel and other amenities for athletes and spectators, officials said. The college would also give $500,000 for restoration work along the Charles River in Watertown.

The worn-down green space is flanked by river to the north and Nonantum Road to the south. It currently features space for softball and soccer. The rebuilt athletic complex would allow for uses including football, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, rugby, softball, and tennis.

The bill allows the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, but does not require it, to lease Daly Field to the newly-formed nonprofit Allston-Brighton Friends of Daly Field, which is led by a 15-member board of residents and city, state, and Simmons representatives.

“The legislation does not bypass any permitting process that may be required under state or local law for the site — it merely enables those processes to start,” Senator William N. Brownsberger of Belmont, the bill’s sponsor, wrote on his website.

The lease would be for 20 years with an option for a 10-year extension and would allow the friends group to oversee the property, but the group would not handle scheduling of its use.

The legislation dictates scheduling of the field’s use would be controlled by the state’s conservation and recreation department.

The bill explicitly reserves full use of the site for Simmons from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays from March to May and from mid-August to November.

Brighton High football would have the space reserved from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays and on Friday nights from mid-August to November for its practices. The Allston-Brighton Little League would reserve weekdays from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. from May to July.

Saturdays would be shared by Simmons College and the local and abutting communities. Sundays would be reserved for local community use.

“The general public will continue to have access to the fields, even during these times, if not in use by the identified users,” Brownsberger wrote on his website, adding that “the site would continue to remain open and accessible — no closed gates.”

Some legislators have said that the field is currently underutilized. The state said that the field is in use about one-third of the time by permit holders and is also used often for pickup games, the Globe has reported. And, those who use it said it is very popular with softball and soccer teams, among others.

“The biggest change for most people will be that the fields will be in good shape,” he wrote. “My personal expectation is that use of the fields by the general public will increase substantially as a result of this partnership.”

Daly Field was once home to Brighton High School football. But due to deteriorating conditions, the team abandoned the space more than 20 years ago. Since then, the Bengals have used other sites, most recently White Stadium at Franklin Park. But football team has not had a home field since it left Daly Field

This week, the House voted 155-0 to pass the bill. The Senate voted 34-3 to approve. Gov. Patrick has until Aug. 9 to take action on the legislation, according to his website.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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