In its quest to support a burgeoning athletic program, the Mystic Valley Charter School has begun work on a $1.4 million artificial turf playing field that will be the venue for three varsity sports and will provide a practice facility for a fourth, a school spokesman said.
The turf field will support home softball, lacrosse, and soccer games, as well as provide a practice space for the football team, said Martin Gately, charter school spokesman.
"It's a big step, and certainly something that we need," Gately said in a phone interview Wednesday. "For soccer, for example we don't have a home field, so every single game has been a road game."
Crews are expected to break ground this week on the second half of the Route 60 site, which was formerly a parking lot for the Davidson Chevrolet car dealership, a 4-acre parcel the school purchased in 2010 for $4.4 million in cash.
When the field is completed in September, it will replace a dusty, unkempt property that has begun to show signs of overgrowth, and was most recently used as an ad-hoc parking lot for large games and events held at the adjacent indoor facility.
The turf expanse will be the outdoor compliment to the charter school's previous capital investment, an $8 million indoor gymnasium and swimming facility that also houses administrative offices and the school's kindergarten built last year on the other half of the Davidson lot.
If cost estimates have held true, the new turf field brings the charter school's total investment in the former Davidson site -- and by proxy, most of its athletic facilities -- to roughly $13.8 million, including an $8 million bond to pay for construction of the indoor athletic center.
While past improvements have been paid for with borrowed funds or savings, the $1.388 million will come from a portion of student tuition -- $983 per child -- that is designated for use by charter schools for the improvement and construction of new facilities. With more than 1,400 students, the $1.388 million is "pretty close" to this year's facilities allotment, Gately said.
Founded in 1998, Mystic Valley has expanded rapidly in recent years, buying former school buildings owned by the city, the Catholic church, and other properties around Malden. With its consistently high test scores and a record of helping its students gain entrance into elite colleges and universities, the athletic program is perhaps one of Mystic Valley's few remaining weaknesses.
Gately said that although students enroll at Mystic Valley in kindergarten when parents are the least concerned about athletic programs, the sports expansions will serve as bulwark against the lure of other institutions, that in the past could offer young athletes richer opportunities to compete.
"It does prevent students from leaving, which we have seen in the past," Gately said. "We're very proud of what we've done. We've developed a very good athletic program in a relatively short amount of time, and these facilities certainly help."
Matt Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.