Fundraising push begins for Marblehead turf field

MARBLEHEAD – November 28, 2012 –When Marblehead next hosts cross-town rival Swampscott for a Thanksgiving Day football clash, will it be doing so on an artificial turf field?

That’s the hope of the recently created Marblehead All-Sports Foundation, which has the backing of town leaders, the Marblehead High School Athletic Department and youth-sports organizations around town as it begins its push to renovate Piper Field, replacing its current natural grass with an artificial surface that would expand exponentially its availability for all to use.

But it won’t be easy. To stay on a timetable that would have the field ready for play when school opens next fall, the All-Sports Foundation will have to raise a total of $1.3 million over the next six months. The Foundation has sent an intermediate goal of raising $500,000 over the next three months, a mark that Foundation member Rick Settelmeyer believes is doable.

“We feel pretty good we can get there,” said Settelmeyer, who is a veteran of a much larger, successful capital campaign that raised $14 million over six years to fund the 2008 construction of the Lynch-van Otterloo YMCA.

The private fundraising effort for artificial turf at Piper Field is due in part to the resounding defeat at the polls of a proposed Proposition 2 1/2 override to fund a similar project in June 2010.

“It has become increasingly difficult to secure public funds for these types of projects, and we felt there was a clear need for an alternative,” MASF committee member Steve Maxwell acknowledged.

What the Foundation hopes is different this time around is the effort that has been undertaken to get all stakeholders in the project on the same page. Settelmeyer noted that the Foundation has obtained the support and encouragement of the Board of Selectmen, School Committee and the Park and Recreation Commission, along with the MHS Athletic Department as well as youth soccer, football, lacrosse and field hockey organizations.

The Foundation’s outreach was “met with a lot of enthusiasm and willingness to help,” Settelmeyer said.

Settelmeyer also noted that the general climate might be more receptive, given the number of other turf fields that have sprung up around the area over the last few years.

Marblehead High School Athletic Director Mark Tarmey said that the turf field could be a “complete game changer for our teams.” The Foundation explained that a new turf field would yield a 15-fold increase in time the field is available for play, from 160 hours per year to 2,340 hours.

Those hours would not just be available to MHS teams but the youth sports organizations as well, allocated through what the Foundation has pledged would be an “open and transparent process.”

The Foundation envisions Piper Field as just the first of many projects large and small to improve the town’s athletic facilities. Future projects may include a new track, additional turf fields and improvements to existing grass playing fields, according to the group.

But Piper Field was a “natural first step,” according to the group.

“[Piper Field is] significantly underutilized, has ample parking, offers spacious fan accommodations and has access to locker and restroom facilities,” the group said in a press release. “Most importantly, Piper Field gives the town the biggest bang for the buck.”

The Foundation recently sent out letters as part of a campaign it said “is going to be a very focused effort aimed directly at individuals who are passionate over Marblehead sports, have children actively benefiting from all the various programs and are enthusiastic over improving the long-term quality of our facilities.”

If the funds can be raised, construction would begin in June, with a two- to three-month timeframe for completion. Settelmeyer said that the Foundation is prioritizing not disrupting any of the seasonal sport seasons. This past summer, the threat of such a disruption prompted resistance to allowing “Grown Ups 2” movie crews to take over Piper Field in exchange for seed money to resurface the field. The filmmakers ultimately wound up in Swampscott instead.

The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to the All Sports Foundation, Box 240, Marblehead, MA 01945. To learn more about the organization, contact Steve Maxwell at info@marbleheadallsports.com.

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