Residents debate whether Danehy Park’s fields should stay green

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons User stephendepolo
Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons User stephendepolo

By Su Jeong Youk
BU News Service

CAMBRIDGE — The Neighborhood and Long Term Planning Committee, residents and soccer players held a heated discussion at a recent public meeting here about the long-term impacts of replacing two grass soccer fields with artificial turf at Danehy Park in North Cambridge.

Student athletes and coaches supported the city council moving forward with replacing the grass fields with artificial turf at the meeting, held Feb. 5 at City Hall’s Sullivan Chambers. But several local residents opposed the artificial turf, citing expected maintenance costs and aesthetic issues.

Danehy Park is a 55-acre recreational facility built through a community process in the early 70son the site of a former city landfill on 99 Sherman St. It’s an important landmark for Cambridge, residents said, because locals and sports team from across the city visit to play sports there nearly every day.

Currently, only one out of the four soccer fields in Danehy Park is made of synthetic turf, and the City of Cambridge made in early January a $1.35 million proposal for bids to replace two more fields (Danehy one and two) with artificial turf. On Jan. 24, the city accepted seven out of 17 bids from New England-based contractors; the highest bid totaled $1.5 million, according to the City of Cambridge website.

A meeting on Feb. 25 is expected to announce further notices to settle the matter.

“This is a passionate issue for a lot of people,” said Leland Cheung, a city council member who chaired the hearing. “So many people have responded even though it was just recently brought up to the public.”

Last April, City Manager Robert W. Healy submitted a budget plan for fiscal year 2013,and in September, city council voted and approved the recommendations for the replacement of grass fields at Danehy Park.

“We are trying to provide a quality experience for Cambridge youth at the lower and high school levels,” said Deputy City Manager Richard C. Rossi during the hearing. “Out of 55-acres of natural area … we just want three [artificial fields].”

Andrew Farrar, president of Cambridge Youth Soccer, said the soccer fields at Danehy Park are high in demand year-round and that they can’t be kept in good condition. The grass fields have uneven surface where soccer can’t be played well or safely, he said.

“This is not a maintenance issue. We are in need for high quality durable and safe fields — strict limits on usage is required,” said Farrar. “The demand for playing fields overwhelms the ability of grass to recover.”

Similarly, Sandy Gould, soccer coach and parent of two soccer players, said another problem with grass fields has been the cancellation of games due to wet weather. “Having that turf field is a lifesaver in terms of scheduling  … there is a huge benefit with the consistency of knowing that the game will be on,” she said.

However, some Cambridge residents are opposed to the proposal.

“I groan when I hear the word ‘turf’ field. They are hot, harsh, ugly, dirty and I worry about the chemicals that leach out into the air when it gets hot,” said Ellen Aronson, 54, a parent of two daughters.

Seth Teller of Cambridge gathered 500 petitions from to keep the grass fields at Danehy Park. He said people are opposed to the scope of turfing, not the turfing itself.

“We should preserve at least some of the grass option … we should consider a compromise, instead of turfing every square foot of the playing fields,” Teller said.

He added that the installation costs for three artificial turfs would not include brushing and watering during hot days required for safe operation. He also laid out health reasons to reject artificial turf.

“Artificial turf is thought to incubate MRSA bacteria without biodegrading it, putting those who play on turf at increased risk of staph infections,” Teller said.

Cambridge residents who couldn’t attend the meeting sent emails to the council expressing their concerns about the new policy.

Lucinda Jewell, chair of Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, said the city should continue to keep Cambridge a “green” city. “[The proposal] is in direct conflict with the aforementioned commitment to being a green city, and a violation of the trust of those of us who choose to live here because of that commitment,” she wrote in an email.

Aronson said people should embrace the natural environment and the budget could be spent more effectively if the council used it to improve the maintenance of the current grass fields. “The weather and the rough patches are just part of the game, and it’s important for kids to experience those healthy, imperfect fields,” she said.

Committee members said last week that they would discuss solutions in order to appease both sides. “One of the concerns was the heat created by turf fields on hot days, so perhaps we can use lighter-colored turfs, like grey,” said Minkavan Beuzekom, a council member.

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