City Council Debates Future of High School Fields

By Adam Swift

The City Council’s decision to build a new high school on the current school site rather than the Wonderland property has caused some dissent among councillors about the future of the playing fields at the current high school.

Under all the building options being considered, a new high school would be built on the existing soccer field and varsity baseball diamond on the property. That would take those fields off line for approximately four years, raising questions about the future of the high school athletic teams that use those fields.

The debate over the future of those athletic teams became heated at times on Monday night, as school and recreation officials were on hand to answer questions about the fields submitted by Councillor-at-Large Marc Silvestri.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Richard Gallucci said if the fields are not in use, athletes from Revere High School will have to be bussed off-site for practices and games. Some teams, including the varsity baseball team, would likely need to play all away games for the length of the construction project.

Gallucci added there would be additional bussing costs if students had to be bussed to practice facilities in nearby communities. He also said the loss of the fields would mean there could be no outside gym classes for the high school or nearby Rumney Marsh Academy in the spring and fall.

“We are struggling for field space as it is, specifically, the football team rarely has 100 yards to practice as the split Harry Della Russo with the field hockey team,” said Gallucci.

He added that the boys and girls varsity and junior varsity soccer teams practice together because of the current lack of field space.

Gallucci said if the state ruled that the schools needed temporary fields built while the high school, the district would have to find land in the city to build those fields.

“These are the most important things that I’ve been thinking of since we decided to move the school back to the existing site,” said Silvestri. “We don’t have adequate fields because we are taking them away, we will not have physical education classes outside at Rumney Marsh or the high school for approximately five years, all to fit a 20 pound rock into a five gallon bucket,” said Silvestri. “I just don’t understand why we are doing this, but it’s not my call.”

Several councillors noted that there are other fields in the city that could potentially be used by the school for athletics, although Gallucci stated that none of the baseball fields online are currently up to specifications for varsity baseball.

Recreation Director Michael Hinojosa said there are some fields in the city that could potentially be used for some athletics and activities, but that those fields currently lack lighting.

As the high school project moves forward, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dianne Kelly said the district will look to work out agreements with nearby communities to use their practice fields.

“We would work with Chelsea and Winthrop, the two we were working with when the stadium was being done over, so we could use their practice fields,” Kelly said.

Ward 6 Councillor Richard Serino stated that other school districts have had to deal with fields being taken offline during construction projects.

“It’s not like we are reinventing the wheel, it might stink for a few years, it’s not ideal, but we will deal with it,” said Serino. “We are a resilient community, I’m sure we can figure out how to manage this.”

Silvestri took exception to Serino’s comments.

“I was a public school student who excelled (as) a three-sport athlete,” said Silvestri. “I can’t imagine you telling me today that my four years of high school (sports) were going to be played away outside of my city. Ruining a kid’s high school career is not growing pains that we get over.”

Silvestri also asked Hinojosa how much the city makes from field rentals, with Hinojosa replying that the city brings in about $70,000 per year in rentals of the school fields and the Della Russo turf field.

Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto said the city shouldn’t necessarily worry about losing the money from the field rentals when it was set to give up what he estimated was half a billion dollars in property taxes from the Wonderland site.

“When we were about to take a half a billion dollars off the tax rolls to build at Wonderland, you’re not going to get sympathy from me,” said Zambuto.

Silvestri said he was not looking for sympathy for the loss of revenue, but sympathy for the athletes who will lose out on the high school playing experience.

“We have to provide these fields, and I’m sure (we’re) capable of doing it,” said Zambuto. “It’s going to cost what it’s going to cost; we’re going to have a new high school and that’s the price we have to pay.”

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