Final ribbon-cutting to be held this Friday, 11 a.m.
(Somerville Wire) – It’s been five years since Conway Park was discovered to be contaminated.
In preparation for renovations to the 2.8-acre complex at 550 Somerville Avenue, a 2017 environmental site assessment found that chemicals had seeped into the soil, including lead and PCBs, some of which exceeded regulatory limits.
Formerly the site of a bleachery and dye works companies, it was taken over by the City in 1937, cleaned up, and made into a popular park. In recent years, it has featured one of Somerville’s most heavily used athletic fields, as well as a playground and splash pad.
After the initial environmental assessment, the City and the Mass. Department of Environmental Protection worked closely to determine the extent of contamination. They declared there was “No Significant Risk associated with park visitor exposure to soil and therefore, there is No Imminent Hazard associated with exposure to soil in the playground area, as defined by MassDEP.”
While the City advised residents not to worry about past exposure, state and federal regulations required an extensive cleanup. In 2020, the City and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partnered to remediate the park. According to the City, “EPA provided an unprecedented amount of financial support and expertise to clean and restore the site.”
EPA conducted the first phase of soil removal, at an estimated cost of $3 million. The City then completed remaining soil removals and remediation work at an estimated matching cost of $3 million. A total of 8,714 tons of soil were removed, according to the City. Additional funding was provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund Grant Program.
The new athletic field features a synthetic turf system, rather than natural grass. The Somerville Urban Forestry Committee and other concerned residents had called for maintaining a natural grass field, citing the high surface temperatures of artificial turf and other environmental hazards. The City argued that artificial turf is better for athletic use because it is more durable and resilient. They ultimately used a plant-based infill that is better than crumb rubber artificial turf at staying cooler and facilitating drainage.
Open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., the athletic field is used heavily for baseball and soccer, and it also hosts basketball, football, kickball, and softball.
In addition to the athletic field, the park features a refurbished playground and a new splash pad. The project also included resiliency features designed in preparation for climate change, such as a subsurface stormwater infiltration system that adds 3,743 cubic feet of storage. New utilities were installed, retaining walls were repaired, and other amenities were updated. Preservation of the existing plaza trees and addition of 64 new native trees will provide shady spaces in the park, and new energy-efficient lighting will minimize spillage into nearby homes.
Last December, then-Mayor Joseph Curtatone held a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the completion of the athletic field. This week, Mayor Katjana Ballantyne will mark the grand opening of the full site with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m. on Friday, May 27.
“This has been an incredibly complicated project encompassing five years of work, from the testing and remediation to the funding and construction. It serves as a model partnership with state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Recreation, as well as the U.S. EPA,” said Luisa Oliveira, the city’s Director of Public Space and Urban Forestry.
“We are so excited for Conway to reopen,” said Jill Lathan, DPW Commissioner and Director of Parks and Recreation. “Given the density of our city, field space is in high demand. Conway provides a much-needed venue for Somerville youth to pursue athletics and be active, which is vital for their physical and mental health. This is a major milestone to celebrate, and we’re grateful to all who made this possible for youth and families in Somerville.”
Photo credit: Photo of Conway Park by Russell Adams.
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Linda Pinkow is a reporter for the Somerville Wire. She is also a development consultant for the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.