"Look at this dump," former Mayor Michael Bonfanti said in greeting a large crowd that gathered Wednesday afternoon at 45 Walnut St. for a groundbreaking of what both Bonfanti and current Mayor Ted Bettencourt hope is a catalyst for new development in the area near the downtown.
The 1.3-acre site, vacant and over-grown with weeds, will be transformed by early November into a park for children and adults. Construction begins on Monday.
As the former mayor was quick to point out, the site has been a brownfield for more than two decades, contaminated with heavy metals, petroleum residue and dioxins left behind by an old tannery.
Bettencourt called the groundbreaking "an important day for our city." He said he expects this park to be "the kickoff point for development in this area."
The park, located behind the on Wallis Street in an area in need of redevelopment, will help drive up property values and spur new private sector investment, Bettencourt said.
The new park will create more green space in the downtown area and will serve as an amenity for the neighborhood and a space that the can use as an outdoor classroom, officials said.
Bettencourt told the crowd that included a large number of Peabody veterans he would like for the city to name the park the East End Peabody Veterans Park. The City Council would have to approve that name. At least three councilors were on hand for the groundbreaking.
The mayor said he thought naming the park for the East End veterans was appropriate since 35 East End Peabody residents have died in the service of their country.
The site, which will have access from Walnut and Wallis streets, was called "extremely challenging" to rehabilitate into a park.
The site has two conflicting issues -- , which means the ground elevation cannot be lowered.
The plans are to remove the top foot of contaminated soil, the minimum that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will allow, according to the environmental engineers Michael Sabulis with GEI Consultants and Brian Kuchar with Horsley Witten Group. Then the site will be capped with a geotextile layer to contain the remaining contaminants and new dirt will be brought in to bring the site back to about the same level it is now, the engineers said.
The $1.5 million project is being funded in part by a grant of $497,000 from Mass Development. The money, which comes from a state brownfield redevelopment fund, will pay for the removal of contaminated soils and capping the site and bringing in the clean fill.
Mass Development President and CEO Marty Jones said the park may look like just another children's play area with game tables, plants that attract butterflies, a decorative fence and boulders to climb on.
"What's child's play today will drive downtown economic development," she said.
Bonfanti noted that work on converting the brownfield started in 2009 under his watch. "We went to the state. We went to the feds for help. Today a project like this takes a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money coming together," he said.
The city secured a $550,000 state grant to buy the land and build the park. Another $240,000 came from a federal brownfield fund last year to pay for site remediation. It wasn't until December that city officials .
Bettencourt and Bonfanti gave one another credit for getting the park under construction.
The City Council voted to spend $265,000 last year from preservation funds to help with the cleanup as well.
"I am looking forward to not seeing this dump," Bonfanti said. "We have a long way to go."