By Seth Daniel
A move by some city officials to look into the purchase of Malone Park next to the Soldiers’ Home from the state for badly-needed youth sports programming space has mounted no small controversy in the last week or so.
Malone Park, or the Soldiers’ Home park, is a large open field, passive park connected to the Soldiers’ Home complex and is owned by the state. The park has been in existence for decades and is often used by the immediate neighborhood and the veterans in the Soldiers’ Home. With a striking view of Boston and an air of quietness, it’s a place of peace.
However, in the last several months, the lack of space to accommodate youth sports games and practices has developed into an emergency situation, and City Councillor Roy Avellaneda said he eyed the large open space, which he said appears to be used very rarely, and thought it could be the quick solution to housing practices for youth football and soccer.
“We were being told that the Chelsea Pop Warner had nowhere to go and had to scramble to find practice space on the baseball field at Carter Park,” said Avellaneda. “We know we need more park space…I had my sights set on Malone Park because it’s very large and very underutilized. Most times I drive up there, there is no one up there…It’s not an active park or even a passive park use…That being the case, I talked to the City Manager about trying to get that park into the City’s system and out of the state’s hands to see if we can do something about youth sports.”
Avellaneda said he envisioned using the field mostly for practice space for the two youth football leagues, Chelsea Pride and Chelsea Pop Warner, as well as for youth soccer leagues. Avellaneda said he set up a meeting with the Soldiers’ Home and some state officials to discuss the matter further and did not find everyone as enthusiastic as he was.
“I was surprised to know there was any appetite for opposition to this because I didn’t think that trying to find kids a place to play would be something anyone would be working to fight,” he said. “Quite frankly, there’s a lot of space between the residences and the park, so any kid practicing football or kicking a soccer ball up there wouldn’t be half as noisy as Runway 33L. I would actually think that more activity up there would help to get rid of some nefarious dealings at the edge of the park that I have noticed. More activity there might push it back and keep it from creeping further up the Hill.”
But the Malone Park is turning out to be somewhat sacred ground, inexorably tied to the Soldiers’ Home and devoted to promoting the peace and quiet earned by those who fought for their country and now call the Home home.
It’s pit two major constituencies against one another – the veterans vs. the youth sports.
The Soldiers’ Home declined any official comment for this story.
However, some city councillors said that the Home is not excited or happy about the suggestion to put youth sports activities on its park.
Councillor Matt Frank said he does not support the idea whatsoever, and he represents a large part of the Home in his district.
“My feeling is there isn’t a lot of passive park space on this half of the city,” he said. “That field is heavily used. It may not look that way because you don’t see kids running around, but neighbors, seniors and veterans use it to sit and rest or to walk. That park is connected to the Soldiers’ Home for a reason. It’s supposed to be a place where the Soldiers’ Home residents can relax. We do need more field space for youth sports, but every single inch of the city doesn’t need to be programmed. If you wake up on a Saturday morning and want to kick the ball around with your 4-year-old, there aren’t a lot of places you can do that. I would really hesitate and have concerns about putting programming up there.”
Councillor Leo Robinson, who lives near the Park, said he has heard nothing but concerns from neighbors and the Home about the idea. He said there needs to be more done about policing the existing fields before expanding to areas like the Soldiers’ Home.
“Some of the neighbors up there have been speaking to me and they’re not in favor of changing the park,” he said. “Some of the veterans who walk the park are not in favor of changing the park either…In the process of getting control of the parks, we need to know who is playing on the parks and fields we have. That’s what we need to look at first. Are they Chelsea residents? Or are they coming from somewhere else? If they’re not from Chelsea, then we should do something about that.”
Frank said he believes now if the time to look at really creative things rather than the taking of existing parks from the state for a different use.
He said he would like to see ideas like building a parking garage for the airport rental cars along the waterfront, and transforming the top floor into a multi-use outdoor field that could be covered in the winter and used for indoor sports.
“I think now is the time to get creative and we need to find other solutions,” he said. “When we get the new Recreation Department in, we should look at how we are using our space we have.”
Avellaneda, however, said the time has really passed to plan long-term, and lots of kids need space for youth sports right now. With a large field in the City that appears mostly unused, he said it only makes sense to use it for a pressing need.
“I challenge anyone to go up there on a regular day at any hour and say that it isn’t underutilized,” he said. “In this City, the majority needs that space. If someone can tell me where else to find a park, then tell me where that might be.”