Fewer than five years after celebrating a renewed, $3.7 million Newell Stadium built through a classic public-private partnership, the city is now poised to borrow up to $1.15 million repair the facility’s bleachers and running track.
An order submitted by Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken and City Treasurer John Dunn asks the City Council to back a loan authorization to help cover the project, which is expected to cost $1.26 million. The proposal was referred Tuesday by the council to its own Budget and Finance Committee, with a eye toward finalizing the funding in the coming weeks.
The project estimate comes from the Woburn-based firm of Heimlich Landscaping and Contracting, which installed the stands and track facilities the first time around. The repair proposal calls for disassembling then rebuilding the bleachers and press box and a portion of the track. The stands, especially, have become uneven and appear cracked where they rest upon concrete slabs that have shifted at both ends. The Heimlich repair proposal calls for removing and disposing of the slabs, which were designed to hold the heavy stands in place.
The repair plan would also install reinforced concrete grade beams or pilings under the stands and geotextile fabric under the track straightaway to better stabilize it. Other work includes new paving beneath the bleachers and around the building housing the restrooms. The work would also include a full refurbishing of the track.
The plan to borrow funding for repair work comes after the city had negotiated for months with Heimlich and CDM Smith over how to address any repairs to the stadium. Dunn’s memo to the mayor regarding the loan authorization indicates that “necessary engineering design and oversight will be supplied by CDM Smith at no charge to the city.”
James Destino, Gloucester’s chief administrative officer under Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, said the repair work will be under a “negotiated agreement” with the project’s initial providers — “basically an extension of the contract,” he said. He noted that the agreement comes without anyone admitting blame, and said the biggest change will be in the installation of the pilings beneath the stands, while the slabs were used in the first incarnation of the project.
“Without anyone really assuming fault here, there’s a lot of blame to go around,” Destino said. “But our responsibility as an administration is to fix it, and that’s what we are going to do.
“The architect drew up what he was told to do, and the contractor built what he was told to build,” he continued, “but the concept (centered on the concrete slabs) just didn’t work.”
Destino said the city has nearly $200,000 remaining from Newell donations for remedial work, and that should ease the city’s repair costs if the council backs their use.
The stadium reconstruction was funded through an array of $298,000 in city Community Preservation Act funds, a $500,000 state grant, more than $600,000 in private funds raised through a Gloucester Fishermen’s Athletic Association donor program, a number of five- and six-figure gifts by local businesses and foundations and a $500,000 grant extended over 10 years by the New Balance Athletic Shoe Co., which gives the stadium and its field their name.
The “new” New Balance Field at Newell Stadium opened in September 2013 as home to GHS Fishermen football and the school’s other fall teams, and the track reopened the following spring — amid ceremonies that included then-Mayor Carolyn Kirk throwing out the first shot put.
But signs of trouble began to surface when the track developed puddles and appeared uneven later in 2014. The sinking stands, already disassembled for the repair project, became increasingly bowed — especially at the north end — last year.
Gloucester High Principal James Cook said Tuesday he and other school leaders are “in a holding pattern” regarding the repair project, awaiting a meeting with city public works officials. Cook noted that the project will not affect the playing field, which — in addition to Fishermen football — will host boys’ soccer and girls’ soccer and field hockey when the new season begins.
Cook said he’s uncertain whether all of the stands will be in place for use this fall.
“As to the big picture, all I can say is I don’t know,” he said. Todd Heimlich, who heads the contracting company, did not return a call seeking comment.
Destino said the city is confident the stadium — which also serves hosts the school’s graduation ceremonies and other community events — can be in full use for the fall season.
“I know that’s our goal,” he said. “It might be good if the teams first played a couple of games away to give us a litle more time. But we’re really hoping it’s ready to go.”
Staff Writer Ray Lamont an be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email at email@example.com.