June 7, 2021: Save Mattos Field and our Open Space by Patti Amaral
To whom it may concern,
Gloucester’s place in history is well documented as the oldest fishing port in our country. Though dangerous work with greater annual average loss of life compared with other jobs, fishing has been a way of life for many generations. Ancillary industries flourished.
Early on, Gloucester’s fish was laid out and salted to preserve it. Racks lining our docks were full of the day’s catch. Nathaniel Webster, a local blacksmith, soon realized that he could use his “Pond” on Webster St. to keep fish and food cold. The “Pond” was dammed, and ice was cut and delivered all over Cape Ann and beyond. History was made.
Soon the refrigerators came into our lives and the “Pond” was again dammed and flooded, now skating for all ages to enjoy the playground recreation area and oasis of nature right in the neighborhood. Many marriages were forged as skating was a much-enjoyed past time and lights were installed for nighttime skating as well. The open space was cherished year-round.
In 1935 the members of the Portuguese Club, Sans-Egal Club (now the Fraternity Club) petitioned the City to dedicate and name this great sweep of precious open space, “Mattos field,” after a young soldier named Joseph S. Mattos, Jr., who lost his life one day after his 19th birthday during WWI after serving since he was 16 years of age. Coming from a patriotic family this honor was well received, especially because of the intrinsic connection to this neighborhood. The dedication of Mattos Field that bears his name was a day of gratitude and honor as his family stood looking out at the newly named Mattos Field and the honor that was bestowed on Pvt. Mattos. They were thrilled and so was the community. His family sacrificed so much, and now they are asked to sacrifice the rest of this dedicated land. Some plaque or rededication in another neighborhood severs the connection to the land and community and is missing the heart of the tribute. Their son couldn't be there to raise a family as they had. What could be more worthy of his and their sacrifice than open space enjoyed by all, living life to the fullest? Open space right there on Webster was the point.
When Rt.128 was built out, the open space Mattos Field area was a barrier for this fence line community. Also, after WWI in the early 1950s when a baby boom occurred, the Chapter “322 the Acts of” was enacted to take a portion of Mattos to build Veterans Memorial School which is there now. At that time 60% of this Article 97 Protected land area was taken. (Now the remaining open space that is left is targeted.)
Local, state and federal funding was sought and awarded for the Mattos Field open space recreation area such as Federal Relief Funds under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and state funds totaling $280,000.00 from the Community Preservation Act (C.P.A.). If it wasn’t for this consolidated school project more grants could be written as part of the continued rehab for this much needed open space.
Gloucester is a city that has narrow streets, and its infrastructure is not made to expand roads to accommodate the overburden of traffic this new school will bring. We are taking this densely populated neighborhood’s previously protected Article 97 land and leaving them with a neighborhood of cars and emissions that are released as they try to enjoy their quality of life that has been stripped away.
This Webster Street neighborhood already abuts a major highway intersection complete with traffic lights. This area has the highest rate of accidents in our city. Just a week back the Jaws of Life were used to save a life at this intersection. And again, in this first week of March 2021, there were three more accidents at this intersection.
The project team claims that the supersized school, storm water mediation and traffic remediation they’re proposing is a superior solution for this open space jewel they deride as a “bathtub” and that they are meeting standards. In 2014 they concluded in their own master plan for the city that this site in particular was capped at 266 students at most, and because of so many significant issues they would not recommend any enlarged new schoolhouse at this site, ever. Topography, traffic, pollution, and other negatives were detailed. They repeated this opinion through several phases and iterations of studies, and famously described a consolidated project for this site “tortured”.
Meanwhile, the East Gloucester Elementary School status via the MSBA process was considered urgent because of a stream underneath the property, its natural environs, and a crowded neighborhood. If a stream and the surroundings in a crowded neighborhood are a grave concern at EGS, surely the former site of an enormous pond with surroundings & wetlands are even more so at the Veterans school, where the water beneath ground continues to feed a fragile coastal ecosystem--the great marsh and estuary at the back of Good Harbor Beach (one only has to look at aerial views to see its course) --and the beautiful open space is choked by two thruways and a crowded neighborhood as well.
Article 97 requires transfer of the same value or more. Both elementary school houses were designed thoughtfully to scale for the sites they occupy. The amount of open space experience at Vets is priceless so it’s impossible to determine the same or greater value. The article 97 transfer to EGS is a shell game swap because it's an overlay. The entire city will be out open space because of a net loss.
This supersized elementary school proposal is an environmentally unjust project. Some cities look okay from a high level or remote meetings--but as you zoom into local highways or waterways, you can see that the makeup of the neighborhood that's closer to those with high traffic, as this one, is disproportionately lower income. Dense neighborhoods with thriving cultures are left shouldering the burden of pollution and lack of open space. Our census numbers for the Environmental Justice area are not in yet for this street. We do know that Veterans Memorial School has the highest number of reduced or free lunch (65%) and also the highest number of English Language Learners in our school district. We do know that another environmental justice area is just 4000’ from this area as well.
The state should be encouraging livable, walkable neighborhoods and a greater quantity of smaller elementary schools. Especially if the expendable warranty is only 40-50 years.