The piles of dirt visible atop Newell Stadium's football field last week and the bare center now carved out of the field from end zone to end zone aren't part of the proposed $3.4 million stadium restoration project that's still in the talking phases.
They are, however, part of a $16,000 project that's being funded by the private, nonprofit Gloucester Fishermen's Athletic Association in order to make the field playable this fall, said GFAA Co-President Dick Wilson.
The GFAA has contracted with Davis Construction to level and resurface the part of the playing field that gets the most use — the 80-foot wide, 100-yard stretch between the football hashmarks. And a new natural-grass surface is set to be installed on Tuesday, Wilson said.
"It was torn up to the point that it was unplayable, even for this season," Wilson said. "Something just needed to be done, so we're doing it."
The Newell Stadium turf is best known as home to the high-profile Gloucester High Fishermen's football team — a program that has been to three consecutive Eastern Mass. Super Bowl games, and won two Super Bowl titles while piling up 100 wins over the last decade.
But the Newell Stadium turf also serves as home to the school's boys' and girls' soccer teams and its field hockey teams — all in the fall.
Tours of the field this spring showed it was deeply rutted, with conditions Wilson said were "just not safe." And while the city began watering the field in early July, much of the grass was already burnt and lost and the rutted field hardened by the time the watering began.
If the field had not been pegged for any substantial repairs, Wilson said its condition may have forced all of the school's teams to play exclusively on the road. Gloucester High's championship track teams already do that, since their home track around the Newell football field has been declared unsafe for hosting competitive meets.
But that move would both increase transportation costs — and deprive the athletic programs of football gate receipts, which totaled some $26,000 last fall, Wilson said.
"People may be asking why we're doing this now, when we're still looking at a much bigger project," Wilson said. "The answer is we can't afford not to do this — either from a dollar standpoint or from a safety standpoint."
At the same time, Wilson emphasized that the current project is a short-term solution, and does not begin to mitigate the need for the $3.4 million Newell Stadium renovation that's on the drawing boards.
The current project, he noted, doesn't provide any remedies for the track, nor for the main home stands, which are becoming increasingly unsafe in their own right, with shaky railings and uneven rows of bleacher seats.
The Gloucester Fishermen's Athletic Association primarily provides funds to student-athletes to offset user fees they're required to play to become a part of the Gloucester High teams. But in recent months, the GFAA has stepped up its fund-raising efforts for the Newell Stadium restoration. The city provides no funding to the school athletic programs, and has not committed any funds for the stadium project, either.
Along those lines, Wilson said he has received commitments from three potential major donors who would essentially provide matching funds if the community shows it's behind the stadium project. Wilson said the GFAA is planning a "Renewal Night" for GFAA memberships Aug. 29 at Cruiseport Gloucester — and is working up a format to collect pledges of $1,000 a year over the five years.
The GFAA is also the primary beneficiary of money raised from two upcoming races in Gloucester — the second Gloucester Fisherman's Triathlon, pegged for Sunday, Aug. 8, and the new RunGloucester 7-mile running race, set for Aug. 22.