Mayor Carolyn Kirk wants the city to use a $1.5 million bond issue that would match projected community and private donations of the same amount to help finance the major renovation planned for Gloucester High School's Newell Stadium.
"Putting the proposal forward at this time serves as an incentive to the community to contribute now, and make a new Newell Stadium a reality for a 2011 ground-breaking," Kirk said in a memo to the City Council.
Officials hope to raise the amount available for the renovation project to $3.5 million by obtaining a $500,000 state grant from a PARC program that assists cities and towns in acquiring and developing land for park and outdoor recreation purposes.
Kirk, who made known recently that she will seek election this year to a third term as mayor, told the council in her memo that "2011 promises to be both challenging in terms of the FY12 budget, but also a positive year in terms of being able to move forward on long-awaited initiatives.
"Because the fiscal foundation of the city is now solid, the administration is confident about taking action on some long-overdue projects," she said. "The reward for three years of austerity, the hard work we have all put into closing the deficits, and getting the fiscal house in order, is that the city is in a stronger position to give back to the community in important ways."
Leading the fundraising drive thus far has been the Gloucester Fishermen Athletic Association, which primarily provides money to ease the user fees charged to Gloucester High School's athletes to play on sports teams.
The school's stadium is best known as the home of the Gloucester Fishermen's Super Bowl champion football team — and Kirk officially announced the Newell bond proposal Sunday night at the annual banquet for the Fishermen, who captured its second straight Division 1A Eastern Mass. Super Bowl title last month and have rung up two straight perfect seasons and a 26-game winning streak.
But Newell Stadium also serves as the school's home field for boys' and girls' soccer, girls field hockey. And it would be the home of its champion track teams were the track not condemned as being unsafe for competition.
As outlined to the council, Gloucester's track teams have not been able to host a home track meets in at least 5 years due to the condition of the track, while cross country teams have not had an adequate practice facility.
The GHS boys' and girls' soccer teams and field hockey are restricted to varsity-only rather than including junior varsity and freshmen programs due to concerns about overuse of the field.
Additionally, lacrosse teams have limited access due to concerns about the turf.
Kirk said a new turf field could offer more access to the city's volunteer youth football program, soccer program, lacrosse program and adult sports leagues.
In addition to high school athletic contests, the stadium also plays to a variety of other events, including Gloucester High's graduation programs, youth and adult soccer games held as part of St. Peter's Fiesta, and the annual championship games in Gloucester's youth football leagues.
In their current state, the deteriorated bleachers, Kirk said, could jeopardize using the stadium for graduation ceremonies, or for home games with large crowds.
"Last but not least, the Gloucester High School football program which has produced three Super Bowl championships in the last 4 years, plays at one of the worst fields in the state," Kirk wrote, adding that, all told, well over 1,000 Gloucester children participate in sports that would benefit from, "as the Gloucester Fishermen's Athletic Association puts it, a 'Home to Excellence.'"
The GFAA's fund-raising effort, according to spokesman Dick Wilson, has targeted major gifts from individuals, foundations, and corporate sponsors and has promoted a $1,000 by 1,000 campaign — a grassroots outreach effort to commit 1,000 people to pledge $1,000 each by having them each contribute $200 a year for five years.
Officials say that just over $100,000 of that "Newell Renewal" fund-raising goal has already been achieved.
As planned, the revitalized stadium will include bleacher stands that would set on pilings, offer wheelchair access, and use synthetic turf. It would also have a new track.
"It is no exaggeration to state that this is the philanthropic opportunity of this generation," Kirk wrote.
"All Gloucester's great institutions have been built on philanthropy — Stacy Boulevard, Sawyer Free Library, Addison Gilbert Hospital, and so much of our wonderful open space and parkland," she said. "I heartily encourage the City Council to support this initiative by approving the enclosed loan authorization request ... in the amount of $1.5 million."
Francis X. Quinn can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3455 or email@example.com.