The School Committee voted four to two Monday night to "consider" transferring ownership of to the city of Salem to help win a state grant of up to $600,000 toward building an artificial turf field.
The city has until the end of this month to apply to the state Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations program for a grant for the field. One condition of that grant, Mayor Kimberley Driscoll told the committee members, is that the city own the field, not the school district.
Artificial turf fields have become very popular with cities and towns that have over-used natural turf fields. The demand for fields is growing from schools, youth and adult sport leagues, the committee was told.
The mayor estimated that the cost of an artificial turf field would be about $1 million.
Driscoll, urging the committee to approve the non-binding vote, said the city had won other grants from the state PARC program. Those grants helped and will help fund improvements to , she said.
The mayor said the state has funded a long list of artificial turf fields, including one in Beverly and Gloucester. She doubted if there was any other way for Salem to get a much-needed artificial turf field.
She said the school committee will have months to consider actually transferring the field to the city's recreation department. But "to get our foot in the door" for the grant, she said the school committee would have to vote that it would be willing to consider the transfer of ownership.
Vice Chairman Jim Fleming strongly opposed even voting to consider the transfer of ownership without a lot more information. Saying he would love to have an artifical turf field at Bertram, Fleming said the committee would be "stepping off a cliff" in voting for the mayor's proposal.
"That is not the way to conduct business," Fleming said.
Member Dr. Janet Crane agreed that the committee does not have enough information to vote on the issue. She and Fleming opposed the measure.
Driscoll apologized for not giving the committee more time, but said the opportunity only came to the city during the last week.
The committee was in agreement that the school playing fields are in bad shape.
Member Nate Bryant also noted that the schools and the recreation department have a good relationship on other facilities. "I don't see that going sour," he said.
All members of the committee seemed to be in favor of requiring that Bertram give priority to school teams.
The issue of transferring ownership would also have to be considered by the City Council.
Open the Gates
The committee also voted for a new policy to open its athletic facilities, including Bertram Field, to the public. Some facilities are locked, although committee member Deborah Amaral said Bertram is well used, thanks to a large hole in the fence.
The mayor noted that there was some irony in considering a new policy to encourage more use of the field, after the committee had been discussing how Bertram Field and track are in such poor shape.
The committee will now consider new rules governing the use of the school facilities.