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Ceylon Park turf field to undergo renovation

City engages local soccer teams, residents in redesign process

Peter Roby
Ceylon Park turf field to undergo renovation
Local residents say they want new turf and better accommodations for spectators at Ceylon Park on Columbia Road in Dorchester. PHOTO: PETER ROBY

Tucked away amid multifamily homes, an autobody shop, two public schools and a railroad bridge, Ceylon Park is Dorchester’s primary soccer pitch. As neighbors — many, immigrants — attest, Ceylon’s soccer field has seen better days.

The good news: Ceylon is slated for a two-phase upgrade.

The first, this December, will replace 80,000 square feet of worn-out soccer turf. A second is undesigned, allowing for community input starting this spring.

For some residents at an April 12 project meeting — the kickoff — attention to Ceylon Park is overdue.

Each speaker expressed appreciation of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s multi-million dollar commitment: $500,000 for design in her first budget and $3.6 million more in the FY24 budget released April 12.

Facilitating the meeting, Project Manager Amy Linné distributed a survey for community input on construction priorities. She acknowledged the urgency to replace the soccer field.

“Just knowing that the condition it’s in now is quite poor, it’s become a very hard surface,” Linné said of the field turf, “so that’s not good.”

Linné leads the design effort with a team of Sasaki consultants.

City Councilor Brian Worrell (District 4) experienced Ceylon’s deterioration first-hand. Recounting a visit with his nephew, Worrell said, “When I went to the field, it was kind of — well, not kind of — it was already down to this black substance.”

Worrell, a soccer player, held onto hope for Ceylon’s future: “Friday, Saturday and Sunday, that field could be filled with soccer leagues.”

Joao Barros, coach of the Burke/Dearborn Boys Soccer squad, The Bulldogs, testified to the condition of “our home field.”

“That field has — for many, many years — needed to be renovated. The goals are very, very ancient,” said Barros.

“We would have to — legit — tie down the nets with rocks because it is such an old system.”

He was just thankful no kids had been hurt.

Safety concerns permeated the Zoom-discourse.

Nearby homeowner João Dos Santos said, “I am afraid to use that park, because of some of the safety issues, especially at nighttime.”

Dos Santos is experienced in city youth work; he leads St. Peter’s Teen Center today. He proposed practical steps: a park curfew, relocating port-a-potties, frequent maintenance, and trimming overgrown vegetation.

“I know we are doing all this vegetation and stuff, but we are not looking for safety,” he said.

“I have seen games where refs decide to pause or leave the games because they are not safe,” said Dos Santos, portraying Ceylon’s crowded sidelines.

Regarding Ceylon’s reconstruction, Dos Santos said, “The first thing is where people — spectators — will stay or stand or sit.”

Paulo DeBarros, president of Boston’s Cape Verdean Association, recalled pledges from past planning processes.

“We were supposed to get bleachers in there, and at the end… the construction ran out of money,” said DeBarros, St. Peter’s Teen Center’s founder.

“It ended up leaving that place to become like it is. Overgrown.”

Even so, DeBarros depicted Ceylon as “a gem for the community; it’s an oasis.”

“I think it’s very disrespectful to our fans,” articulated Bulldogs Coach Joao Barros over the lack of seating.

Another neighborhood educator, Nathan Stern, reiterated safety concerns.

“I also run a youth soccer club here, based in Dorchester. For years, we haven’t even considered using the field,” said Stern of Ceylon. “It just simply has not been a safe space for children. We have kids as young as 4 years old. As Mike Kozu touched upon, there is no place for 4-year-olds to go to the bathroom.”

Kozu, an organizer with Grove Hall’s Project R.I.G.H.T., had already raised concerns about the park’s public facilities.

Kozu invited the city to attend Grove Hall’s resident-led associations — core components of Boston’s civic fabric.

Angie Peguero, a resident who works with seniors, also requested outreach.

“We just want to be heard,” she said before rattling off effective outreach methods. “We know it’s a process, we know it’s going to take time… Even for tonight’s meeting. What did that look like prior to tonight?”

Councilor Worrell, who spoke up throughout the night’s 98-minute meeting, proposed solutions to constituents’ concerns.

“One thing that would help, Amy, is if there is a timeline that could be presented to the community,” he said. “I know everything is not planned, but targeted dates when we should be expecting a design. You know, when we can expect to have engagement meetings.”

While a city timeline presented milestones monthly, no date was set for a second meeting in May.

“We are looking at late May, but before Memorial Day,” Linné approximated. “We’ll certainly nail that down, I think probably, in the next week or two.”

Also unclear: how much would be left of a $3.3 million construction budget after obligatory projects like ADA-compliance and field replacement.

Linné was asked by Angie Peguero about “what it looked like to come up with the budget of the $3.3 [million], and how much of that has already been allocated.”

She wanted to understand the second-phase budget — a key scope for community engagement.

“This is the first meeting for this process. So, the initial construction budget amount is something that we do, sort of, an estimate on what we think the park renovations will cost,” replied Linné. “But, of course, you know, it’s an estimate. It’s sort of taking a guess at what is needed. So that’s where that $3.3 million came from.”

Budget estimates remain unidentified, other than the field replacement.

Replying to Dos Santos’ skepticism of the city’s engagement effort, Linné said, “At this point, we haven’t started the design process. We’ve really been gathering the existing conditions and looking at the history and what’s there now.”

Dos Santos also asked about relocating soccer. “Would there be any accommodation for any other parks for folks to use?”

Taking that for further follow-up, Linné promised to speak with Parks permitting-guru Paul McCaffrey.

She said, “It’s sort of the downside to renovations, it does tend to push, you know, one activity — displace one activity briefly.”

On Saturday morning, after the meeting, Ceylon’s field hosted a couple of soccer players, one with a coach, a man eating lunch and a jogger named Steven Stuart.

A resident of Dewey Street, Stuart recently saw the city’s signs. For him, Ceylon Park is “a great amenity to the community.”

Before he ran off, for another lap around Ceylon, he praised Boston’s investment in his neighborhood.

“Well it’s good that the city is going to make that investment. And one way to protect that investment and the future, the kids and everybody — at least — is to include proper maintenance, scheduled maintenance to keep it up, instead of waiting for it to actually run down completely before doing something. I think if you do proper maintenance, timely maintenance, it will actually show that return on investment.”

Ceylon Park, City Councilor Brian Worrell, Dorchester, soccer