City plans face-lift for Foss Park

On January 19, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

The Mayor's 2012 inaugural address included plans to transfer control of Foss Park from the DCR to the city. – Photo by Elizabeth Sheeran

Mayor’s vision includes new recreation facility


By Elizabeth Sheeran

It is the largest open public space in Somerville. But Foss Park is not even a city park. And it has been plagued by a legacy of sub-par facilities, spotty maintenance, and vulnerability to crime.

Now Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone has ambitious plans to take control of the state-owned park and transform it into a first-class recreational site, complete with a year-round indoor state-of-the art fitness and recreation facility. And he wants to do it sooner rather than later.

“For Somerville to be a great place to live, work, play and raise a family, residents need easy access to dynamic, wholesome recreational spaces,” said the Mayor, who listed Foss Park as a key initiative in his 2012 inaugural address. “It’s been a stated goal of mine for the past few years to take control over Foss Park, one of the largest open spaces in Somerville. We’ve been working closely with the state, and this is a very serious step forward.”

Foss Park, which covers 15 acres along McGrath Highway between Broadway and Interstate 93, is currently under the jurisdiction of the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), which is responsible for its management and maintenance.

The Mayor’s goal is to reach an agreement with DCR this year to transfer operational control to the City of Somerville, in the same way the city took over Veterans Rink in late-2010 and Dilboy Field last summer. City officials say it is too early to comment on any specific details of negotiations with the state. But under both prior agreements, the DCR upgraded the facilities before turning them over to the city.

At the same time, the Mayor has also had preliminary discussions with the Somerville YMCA, to explore the possibility of a new multi-service recreational facility to be built on the grounds at Foss Park. But no matter what Somerville has planned for the park’s facilities, the first step will be to transfer control from the state to the city.

Current facilities at Foss Park include a playground, as well as an outdoor pool and adjacent pool house, which are only open during the summer months. The rest of the park consists mostly of playing fields, used by Youth Soccer, Little League, and the Somerville High School soccer and football teams.

“The park’s definitely getting used,” said Somerville Recreational Superintendent James Halloran. “Unfortunately, it’s in terrible shape. Really, it’s a dirt field.”

Matthew Condon has lived across the street from the park for two decades. “On a windy day, there’s a dust storm blowing across McGrath Highway,” said Condon, a long-time member of the Friends of Foss Park, a residents group formed together 10 years ago after a woman was sexually assaulted in the park.

Members of the group, whose stated mission is “crime prevention through park restoration,” say Foss Park was not even on the state’s radar when they first started lobbying to get officials to pay more attention to it, but the situation has gradually improved, particularly over the past five years.

Condon lauded a joint policing agreement reached between the state and the city. And neighbors said DCR staff will now respond to their regular calls to address issues like graffiti or trash, even though it can still sometimes take weeks to get problems addressed. Condon said it’s telling that the DCR website does not even list Foss on its directory of state parks.

Peter Ungar, president of Friends of Foss Park, said the park still does not appear to be included on any kind of regular DCR maintenance schedule, since seasonal maintenance often does not happen unless residents call to request it.

“The DCR has come a long way, but it’s still got a long way to go,” said Ungar.

Both Condon and Ungar said the City of Somerville is the best candidate to manage the park longer term, given its track record so far on facilities like Veterans Rink and Dilboy Field. They said that is especially important now, since new residential development in the nearby Assembly Square area will increase the number of residents using the park.

“I know it’s the city that’s going to make the investment for the citizens of Somerville and not the state,” said Ungar.

City Parks Director Arn Franzen said bringing the park under city control is the key to unlocking “the potential for Foss to be a much better park than it is.”

“Somerville has so little open space to begin with, and there’s this huge parcel that’s sitting there. If the park was under city management, we could do so much more with the programming,” said Franzen.

William Murphy, executive director of Somerville’s YMCA, said a new multi-use recreational facility at the site could be a win-win for both the city and the Y. He said the Y was looking at various options for replacing its aging building on Highland Avenue, but it would most likely join the recent wave of YMCAs in the state that have formed public-private partnerships in order to build new facilities.

“Both the city and the Y recognize that we could really use a state-of-the-art fitness facility for the city, and we’re looking at working together to get it done a lot faster than we can do it on our own, or than the city can do it alone,” said Murphy.

For residents, a year-round facility at Foss Park would be just one more step in the right direction.

“When there are a lot of good things going on, that flushes out the bad elements,” said Ungar. “It’s what’s needed to be done to keep this a safe and welcoming family-friendly area. It’s what the area demands.”



36 Responses to “City plans face-lift for Foss Park”

  1. Lance C says:

    This is long overdue. Also maybe we can have another pedestrian overhead walkway added. This park has been an eyesore for years. The Som Y has been a longtime fixture in the city and a private-public partnership would assure the property was properly maintained.

  2. Ron Newman says:

    The fence across from Stop & Shop needs to have a gate added, so that people can enter the park from that direction. The more people cut through Foss Park on the way to somewhere else, the safer it will feel.

    Any chance we could rebuild the fountain and pond that you see in old postcards of the park?

  3. Ron Newman says:

    As much as I’d like to see this, can the city afford it if they are at the same time threatening to close the West Branch Library?

  4. Winter Hill Barney says:

    I’m not sure a new fitness facility is something that the city should be spending money on at all, frankly. There are several decent private options, plus the facilities available to students at the public schools.

    But it there is a groundswell of support for a new building, PLEASE at least don’t build it in Foss Park. It IS the largest open public space in the city? Why make it smaller? Move it up the hill a bit, along Broadway.

  5. Winter Hill Barney says:

    Ron, there is currently no (legal) pedestrian crossing at the Stop & Shop intersection w/ 28. A new gate would require a new crosswalk there with a pedestrian signal. I think it’s probably a good idea, but it would impact the auto traffic flow and would probably require state approval, no?

  6. JAR says:


    While I agree that having a mid-field cut-through would be a good idea in terms of safety within the park, I believe that the reason there isn’t one there is because of concerns about traffic on McGrath Hwy. and the possibility of little ones wandering out onto it. Just a thought. I’m sure a workable and safe solution can be found to it though.


  7. JAR says:

    Also Ron, I think a scaled-down version of the pond, say 1/2 scale, would be awesome, but I’m fearful it may end up being a magnet for Canada Geese and get all messed up as a result. It’s one of those things that looks great in old postcards but does not necessarily translate into an asset when it’s re-done. Here again, I’m sure there are workable solutions, however.

  8. katt says:

    i hoep they make a ymca at the edge of the park where it won’t un-greenify too much, (which one hopes the ymca will pony up for), leave lots of good, re-planted, nice-i-fied open space(sorry, i’m too sleepy for proper english today), AND save the west branch library. somerville is long overdue for ALL this- no compromises! we should fight for ALL THREE, methinks. I like the idea of the gate, the pedestrian crossing, the paths through the new park with some kind of protection for children- there should be space to have music there too. whew. can you imagine how amazing it’d be if foss park was actually NICE and there was a sweet lil’ library nearby too?

  9. Ron Newman says:

    JAR, if you go further north into Medford and Malden, you’ll see a number of other parks right next to Route 28, with no fences separating them from the road, and people walking across the road. If it works there, it will work here.

  10. Libertarian says:

    Want to make Foss Park safer and more attractive? Get MS-13 out of east somerville. Spending more money on a public property without fixing the root cause of its ruin is a sure-fire way to destruction.

    Look up Pruitt-Igoe on wikipedia/google. There are many lessons to learn from this and other public properties that have had considerable funding put in place to provide a nicer place for people to ruin.

  11. joe says:

    The article states several time that Foss Park is the largest open public space in a city with little open space. Yet they want to send our money to place more buildings on the site? Which would certainly require parking somewhere as well. And a public-private partnership for the building is a dangerous precedent. They would be allowed to build on city property, and who knows down the line if they will have the power to determine future use of the site? The city has plenty of property they can use if they want to build a recreational facility. The Youth teams are getting squeezed more and more. This site is used for high school baseball games, football and soccer practice, little league games and practice, as well as adult soccer. Where will these people go? We are losing Draw 7 park which was used by many adults playing soccer. As to the condition of the park. You cannot play football and soccer on a field year-round without destroying the grass. The alternatives are giving it at least 1 season to rest, or installing artificial grass.
    I find this information interesting because I’ve watched a new building go up, now advertising ‘luxury apartments’ and I wondered who would live in a luxury apartment directly across from a little league field. Makes you say hmmmm……..

  12. Winter Hill Barney says:

    A pond is another thing that seems like a waste of space. If folks want to gaze out over a body of water, they can head down to the Mystic. It’s nice in back of Ten Hills, and once Assembly Square gets rolling it will allegedly be beautiful over there too.

  13. j. connelly says:

    An example of the Curtatone’s administration deceit with the taxpayers.
    He cries that he is going to layoff employees, which will cut services, as we are in a financial crunch. (Not counting him & his “bean” counter’s hidden funds).

    Yet he contiually pushes for more spending for his personal gain with the developers, which places a burden on the already reduced city services, at taxpayers expense. His Assembly Row Bond Blow for the developer which harms the taxpayers a prime example.

    Even just buying grass seed to cover this large expanse of land is a huge cost that the city cannot afford right now. Let the state seed it & maintain it. Right now the state could be adding strategic lights on the existing light poles along McGrath Hwy aimed into the park to illuminate the dark areas.

    We can no longer afford the mayor playing Legos & Monopoly at the taxpayers expense. Stuff like this needs to be put on hold until the city’s financial mess is straightened out.

  14. j. connelly says:

    No gain by putting a YMCA in Foss Park as it is tax-exempt. Last thing we need to do in a city with over 45% of it’s land already tax-exempt, is to add more tax-exempt property to our already overburdened tax payers.
    After the religious (churches/schools), you have Tufts University, MBTA, B&M (Guilford) railroad, etc. on tax exempt status, among others.

    These Tax-exempt organizations that constantly use the municipal services (fire/police/EMS/DPW), should all be paying a users fee for each incident if they are not willing to pay a decent in-lieu of taxes fee.

  15. KeepGreenSpace says:

    I agree with all those that have said that we should NOT build a YMCA on Foss Park. Our green/open space in Somerville is precious… so leave it open.

    I think having a YMCA is a good idea, but put the YMCA on the other side of McGrath in place of the abandoned gas station. That could work.

    I don’t understand the benefits of a public-private relationship for a fitness facility. Can someone explain that? (I think I understand the downsides though)

  16. Harry says:

    The city should sell off the land to developers and let private companies pay for improvements or new condos. We need more revenue.

  17. A Moore says:

    I don’t like putting a building up in Foss Park, dumb. Why not put the YMCA in the ols Star that’s sitting there doing nothing. See how fast they could change the zoning for that. Plus, I am sure there will be plenty of room for it in the Assembly square project. I don’t think they are going to get all the commercial places in there they think they are. There is only so much business one place can do. But YMCA at Foss, no way. Too much of a loss if they do.

  18. Winter Hill Barney says:

    Oh come on, connelly! You’re grinding your axe about grass seed now? I know I vent my pet peeves here from time to time, and no doubt sound ridiculous on occasion, but really? Grass seed?

  19. Ron Newman says:

    If you go back to old enough maps and photos, Somerville used to have a real Central Hill Park. It gradually got covered by more and more High School expansion until there wasn’t much parkland left.

    I’d hate to see the same thing happen to Foss Park. Let’s be really careful before deciding to cover any of it with a building.

  20. Boston Kate says:

    “I find this information interesting because I’ve watched a new building go up, now advertising ‘luxury apartments’ and I wondered who would live in a luxury apartment directly across from a little league field. Makes you say hmmmm……..”

    You’re so right.

    Could the space behind the Dilboy Post hold a Y?

  21. JAR says:


    There is both a qualitative and quantitive difference between the sections of Rte. 28 north of Foss Park (actually, north of Wellington Circle) and the portion that is the present-day McGrath Highway. McGrath receives much of the traffic from 93 South via Mystic Ave. and expels a good amount of it the same way, as well as going to 93 South via the on ramp/off ramp at Sullivan Sq. Rte. 28 has gone from being an emerald necklace fellsway to being, in sections, a sink for the huge volumes of traffic going to and from the Interstate. Only a percentage of what goes by Foss is actually indigenous or “organic” (for want of a better word) Rte. 28 traffic. Once you get past Rossevelt Circle, it drops off precipitously.

    I agree with you about covering any of the park’s open space with a fixed structure. In my opinion it would be better that the YMCA relocate to some place such as The Homan’s Bldg. or somewhere in Gilman Square. That would keep it fairly close to its current location. Incidentally, what is today the Building that the Paddock Restaurant is in was at one time the YMCA.


  22. Harry says:

    The smartest and most cost-effective improvements to Foss Park would be an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sub-station and holding pen. The powerwash everything and throw down new grass seed. Done.

  23. j. connelly says:

    “Winter Hill Barney” Everyone knows that you cannot grind an axe on grass…you need a grinding stone…evidently you missed something in class…It was to bring out a point about the expense to cover such a vast area.

    Just leave Foss Park in the hands of the state…cause if we get it Joe will just be making more deals in favor of developers at our expense.

  24. nicks says:

    When the mayor received the school committee’s okay to close the Powderhouse School, it was with a firm agreement that it was to become a recreation center. It would retain the gym, and the small stage in the cafeteria, as well as house the Recreation Department, etc. Instead, it has sat vacant for about 8 years. The mayor specifically agreed that the gym would remain intact and be accessible to the community. Why are we discussing destroying Foss Park when this building, with a great gym already there, sits vacant? Why haven’t any members of the school committee spoken out about the mayor reneging on his word on this matter? The Powderhouse School sits on bus lines which connect every part of the city, making it the most easily accessible location in the city, especially for our youth.

  25. steve says:

    you cant grind an ax on grass lol! lookit – anything is better that what we got now!
    get the ganga guns drugs out – illegals waiting for work – theyll always be there new park or not.. instead of bashing them – ive seen american guys there too -really! work is work. if they promise to apply for citrizenship
    and have not committed crimes here – have them do clean up or put down grass seed!
    put paths around so people dont stomp on it and wear it out.
    havve summer dances and stuff like boston’s old summerthing program.
    summerthing ’68. i remember. gym stage cafeteria all that. will this really happen or is joe just blowing smoke? look at all this ikea shit… movie thearter? ill never live to see it. but stop and shop happened and its great.
    time for somebody to go to city hall and kick somebody in the a**.

  26. Joe Lynch says:

    Nicks – I know I run the risk of being deleted on this site, but I could not help myself be adding my two cents on your post.

    I agree with you 100%. With considerably less cost, the Powderhouse School could be brought up to code, have minimum impact on the surrounding neighborhood, be accessible from all parts of the city without crossing the McGrath Speedway, and used, jointly, by the YMCA and the city for the betterment of the youth of the city.

  27. Winter Hill Barney says:

    JAR, Gilman square would be a great location, I agree.

  28. Winter Hill Barney says:

    connelly, I understood what you were saying. You just said it in a way that made me laugh. :-)

  29. A Moore says:

    I agree with Harry and Nick. I didn’t know Powderhouse school was vacant. That must be big enough. Or does Tufts want that as well. I never saw the size of the school, but it looked pretty big driving by. I just think Foss Park should be left alone, maybe work out volunteer efforts to help make it nicer if there is no money. People usually jump in to help maintain green projects. I went by today and just thinking of the building size and parking, that would kill a good deal of the park.

  30. AgreeWithNicks says:

    Nicks: I was thinking the same thing… that Powderhouse School could be a rec center. I didn’t know the history though. All the more reason now.

  31. Libertarian says:

    @Nicks –

    I thought the same thing while I was reading through the comments here. As a PHCS Alum, I would love nothing more than to see that place demolished. No better place for learning than a prepoured concrete cell block with no windows, right? Modernist architecture at its worst – I still have nightmares about the concrete corduroy walls inside. The scrapes I used to get from being shoved up against those walls by the kids from the other side of the square. Road Rash!

    There is that gigantic asphalt abomination of a schoolyard next to PHCS too. This would be ideal for green space.

    However, I think Papa Joe has other plans for PHCS. Namely, selling it to Tufts for $1 just as the Western was by Mike “The Family Man” Capuano.

    In the PHCS space, the gym is already built and has a separate entrance. Why not take some of those “classrooms” out (they have modular walls that slide away every other classroom) and turn them into fitness rooms, community meeting rooms and function rooms?

    Instead of funding this with taxpayer money, consider a public-private partnership or allow a developer to purchase the building at FAIR MARKET VALUE to implement all of this, manage the property, and attract businesses that could do well in a setting like this. There is so much more that could be done by opening PHCS to development opportunities other than whatever tufts is promising or yet another block of overpriced condos.

  32. John says:

    The city can afford more than people think. The Mayor is a master of scare tactics and scare politics…Was it fair that he just threatened numerous city workers with pink slips? He attempted to use scare tactics to break down the fire department union. The mayor had department heads running scared over the past week. The mayor is taking advantage of uneducated union presidents/department heads weak minded individuals.

    Parks/ice-skating rinks/ sidewalks/streets/ festivals/ and all sorts of lucrative liberal spending.

    The fire department union prez exposed the mayor and how much foolish money they spend…

  33. daphne c says:

    When the city took over vets skating rink, they took away public skating hours during non school hours. When the city took over dilboy, they began charging for use of the pool. I used to be in favor of local control, but it hasn’t really enhanced the life of our citizens, from what I’ve seen.

  34. j. connelly says:

    The only problem with placing the ‘Y’ in Gilman Sq. is if the proposed GLX station is some day put there, there may not be enough room, etc with the added congestion that will come along with the GLX station.

    The Powderhouse Community School should be used as suggested by the readers, for the community. Naturally Tufts wants it so they can have drive thru access from their main campus to their bldg on Holland St.

    The worst thing our politicians can do is to turn over any land that will then become tax exempt…About 45% of Somerville land is already tax-exempt. Everytime a home or business is purchased by such organizations tax revenue is lost and the burden placed on the legitimate tax payers.

    Time for the residents city wide to hold ALL the aldermen accountable and demand that this site become a city owned recreational facility and do it NOW!

  35. JAR says:

    j. connelly:

    I suggested the Homan’s Bldg. as a site for a new YMCA for a few reasons…

    It is currently owned by the city and vacant. There would be no takings required.

    Gilman Sq., as noted, was the original site of the Y.

    The GLX would, in my opinion, benefit by having the Y nearby to the station as it would have a community resource that was open more hours than an office building would be and a ridership destination. The Y could become the “anchor” for Gilman Square. It is a stable institution which has survived in Somerville for over 100 years and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

    There would be sufficient space on the ground floor for other businesses that would match the scale of the surroundings and compliment the YMCA while possibly providing a revenue source to sustain the Y as well as perhaps providing a small amount of Tax Revenue.

    It would facilitate the possibilty of a mutually beneficial land swap: The Homan’s Bldg. for the present Y. The old Y could then become the City Hall annex, being only a few doors down from City Hall. It’s configuration makes it much better suited to that use.

    It would be on or near three major bus routes.

    PHCS should be leveled and the area made into open/green space which, except for the area around Dilboy, is lacking in that part of the City. (Tufts no longer allows Somerville to use its fields).

    One thing I think we mostly agree on though; Foss Park is NOT the best place to put a YMCA or any large structure. It’s a jewel that needs to be polished and properly displayed as the tremendous urban asset that it is.


  36. nicks says:

    My questions is, why is the mayor wasting his time and energy looking for a location for a non-profit agency? Is he planning to somehow connect it to the city a la the Somerville Boxing Club, now a city agency, which I find very interesting. Either that, or he (or some developer) has a plan for the Y building and need them to vacate the premises.
    JAR, your plan will never work. It is obvious that the city is holding on to the Homan’s Building, and watching it deteriorate, hoping for a big pay day when they sell it for a 2,000-unit condo development when they start buidling the T station.
    Just watch…….

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