MALDEN, MA — Debate over planned renovations to Malden’s Roosevelt Park continued last week at a community meeting at City Hall. Now, the subject is set to return to City Council on Tuesday in the form of a ballot question proposed by Councilman Ryan O’Malley.
If placed on Malden municipal election 2023, as proposed, the question would ask voters their opinion for or against the city’s plans to lay artificial turf over much of a redesigned park. Included on the agenda of the municipal council, this proposed question comes as the last chapter of a long back and forth between opponents and supporters of the project.
“I know this has generated a lot of conversation in our community,” Malden Mayor Gary Christenson said at the town’s community meeting last Thursday. “But what I hope won’t be lost in this conversation is that we’re all here tonight because we care about this park and because we want the best for our city. “
Opponents and supporters of the Roosevelt Park renovations widely agree that work needs to be done on the 3.7-acre park next to Salemwood School in Malden. Over 100 years old, part of the park is currently fenced off due to lead contamination in the ground that likely dates back decades.
While they agree on the need, stakeholders disagree on what the renovations should look like.
The city has proposed and advanced plans to remove 15 inches of contaminated soil and lay a new, largely artificial grass surface over the park.
Opponents including O’Malley and many others have objected to the grass option while calling for soil removal of up to three feet which they say would make the finished park safer for users .
In addition to arguments over soil removal and turf/grass pitch options, opponents noted concerns about possible flooding, pollution, and thermal impacts from the city’s planned project.
The City of Malden has already secured approval from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for a loan that would help pay for its project. However, HUD delayed releasing those funds earlier this year, in part citing community opposition. HUD requested new environmental review documentation to show proper community outreach and analysis of the project’s impact on area residents.
City officials discussed the rationale for the current plans at Roosevelt Park on Thursday, saying the turf would provide a more resilient surface for the high volume of use expected of the park’s land.
“A grass pitch, even a new one, cannot sustain the amount of use we see at the park, regardless of the level of maintenance,” Malden athletic director Charlie Conefrey said.
Officials said the project includes measures to improve floodwater management in the Salemwood area while addressing contamination.
They also noted changes to the project plans to reduce the size of the turf field, add trees and use wood-based infill in the turf instead of the crumb rubber granules that are often used on these fields. These changes, officials said, would all help mitigate the impacts of heat islands, where projects that include grass fields can increase ambient temperatures in their vicinity.
As proponents made their case, opponents on Thursday posed questions and noted lingering concerns about both the project and the city’s plan-making process. Outreach, several opponents said, was insufficient, excluding some marginalized communities directly affected by possible changes to Roosevelt Park.
“Their voices were not heard in the design and planning of this project,” said Kathy Sullivan, a retired Salemwood School educator and Malden resident. “What happened here was an environmental injustice.”
Although still opposed to the turf plans, O’Malley and fellow city councilor Karen Colon Hayes both focused on the level of soil removal when discussing concerns about the city plans.
The 15 inches offered by the city, O’Malley said, won’t be enough.
“Take three feet off, lay some turf, great,” he said. ” I do not like it. But I would be okay with that. Three feet make it safe. Three feet is all we should accept.
“We’re all Malden, so please let’s at least start cleaning up the toxic waste that’s in Roosevelt Park,” Colon Hayes said.