Athletic field improvements to start this summer

The city will soon turn plans for improvements to the athletic fields at Albemarle Park, McGrath Park and the Burr School into reality.

The goal is to meet the changing recreation desires of Newton residents, as well as improve other aspects of the parks, such as pedestrian paths and lighting.

The Albemarle Park upgrades are being done in phases, so the large complex will not be shut down all at the same time.

Phase 1, discussed at a recent Parks, Recreation & Culture meeting, is the northern portion.

This will include a new synthetic turf field, a repositioned ball field, a full sized baseball field, an invigorated softball field, multi-purpose fields, and new pathways. The basketball courts will be repositioned, and the old tennis courts will be turned into pickleball courts.

“The primary goal of Albemarle is to reduce the conflict of use between spring sports,” said Luis Perez Demorizi, director of Parks & Open Space.

Perez Demorizi acknowledged that some residents have had concerns about synthetic turf. He said the turf they have selected will maintain safety and year-round use for players as well as reducing maintenance and irrigation costs.

Mike Jackson, the athletic director at Newton North, said “we are at a real disadvantage in our athletic program right now with only having one turf field…our continued success in athletics will be completely dependent on the creativity and the expansion of turf and grass fields.”

Kevin Conroy, president of the Newton North Athletics Booster Club, said “we are really excited and really support the turf field you’re proposing at Albemarle.” He noted that Newton South already has two synthetic turf fields, and Newton North only has one. Most teams in their conference have two, because New England weather conditions mean the fields are often too wet to play on in the spring.

Conroy was especially hopeful about being able to add more JV and freshman level sports with a second field, particularly for girls. Jackson noted that Newton North switching to a 3:45 p.m. dismissal time means less daylight time for sports and has led to different sports programs coming into conflict with each other.

McGrath Park will be upgraded to add youth sports accessibility in Newton. “This site is very important,” said Perez Demorizi. The plan will remove unused ball diamonds and add a lacrosse practice wall. Newton Youth Lacrosse President Fielder Hiss expressed his support for the new lacrosse practice space at McGrath and is grateful that the fields have been situated in an area that will mitigate noise heard by abutters.

The pickleball courts at Albemarle have been deliberately situated to mitigate noise to be as far away from abutters as possible. “There are some neighboring towns and other places that have had some challenges with pickleball,” said Perez Demorizi. “We have had challenges ourselves with pickleball at McGrath.”

They will also be adding new trees to reduce noise.

McGrath will have a new dog run where dogs will be allowed to be off-leash, which city officials hope will reduce issues neighbors have had with off-leash dogs elsewhere.

The Burr School has a substantial amount of land, but that currently is not safe enough to be used as proper athletic fields. The proposal involves flattening the grass to provide two multi-purpose fields, as well as adding a path around the fields. The current baseball/softball diamond will be removed.

The new multi-use path at Albemarle will be primarily to allow people to walk along the park away from the road, as well as giving children safer ways to get to the schools that are near the park’s boundaries.

“We are very aware of trying to keep the night sky as dark as possible,” said Perez Demorizi, talking about both pedestrian and sports lighting. The sports lighting will be the same as what has already been installed at the high school, which is less bright than older sports lighting and is also remote-controlled by the city.

One area Newton hopes to improve at all three parks is stormwater mitigation, which will reduce nutrient loading of phosphorus into waterways and help mitigate flooding.

Albemarle Park will also get a new footbridge across Cheesecake Brook.

City officials hope to re-do the Burr School fields this summer start on Albemarle Phase 1 in winter 2024 and McGrath in spring/summer 2025.