Published September 18, 2019


WAKEFIELD — Soon after the Recreation Department moved its office into the Americal Civic Center several years ago, Director Dan McGrath became acutely aware that the flooring in the Drill Hall was in rough shape.

“We were past borrowed time,” McGrath said, adding that the risk of someone getting hurt was a constant worry as areas of the old floor were buckling, splintering and even developing “divots” in spots.

Having served on the Recreation Commission for seven years, Tony Longo also knew first-hand how bad the aging floor in the Drill Hall at the Civic Center had become.

McGrath recalled that it was Longo, then a Town Councilor, who suggested trying to get state funds to replace the floor.

WORK BEGAN this week on replacing the floor in the Drill Hall at the Americal Civic Center. Local officials and the town’s state legislators pushed hard to get the $125,000 in state funds that will pay for the new floor that will benefit the many sports and civic groups that use the hall. (Mark Sardella Photo)

“Tony pushed for this,” McGrath said, “as did Councilor Peter May.”

While he was vice chairman of the Town Council, Longo joined then-Chairman Peter May, Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio and the town’s legislative delegation in pressing hard for state funds to upgrade the flooring in the drill hall of the former state armory.

Those efforts paid off. This week, work began on tearing out the old maple flooring that has been there for at least 75 years. The entire project is expected to take about a month, says McGrath. Sports and other activities that regularly take place in the hall are on hold for the next few weeks, but the benefit of a new floor outweighs any inconvenience.

McGrath says that most days the the Drill Hall is booked from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The hall, which doubles as a gym, is used by many youth and adult sports groups and also serves as a venue for municipal and private functions, including weddings, Chamber of Commerce meetings, Boys & Girls Club activities and fundraisers for local advocacy groups. There is also an active senior pickle ball league that uses the hall throughout the year. McGrath said that it was important for the floor to be finished in time for the Wakefield Basketball Association’s intramural season that begins later this fall.

DEEP GOUGES or “divots” like this one are just one of the problems with the aging floor in the Americal Civic Center Drill Hall. The entire floor will be replaced over the next few weeks. State funds are paying for the project. (Mark Sardella Photo)

But getting the state funds for the project wasn’t exactly a slam dunk. The $125,000 was originally in the 2019 state budget before becoming a casualty of Gov. Charlie Baker’s line-item veto pen. But Reps. Paul Brodeur and Donald Wong, along with Sen. Jason Lewis and other local and state officials, pressed hard to override the Governor’s veto and got the money put back in the budget. As part of that effort, then-Town Council Chairman May and Vice Chairman Longo co-signed a letter to Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash in June of 2018 asking for his assistance in making sure the funds remained in the final budget signed by the governor.

“I was happy to collaborate with our state legislators and the Town Council to get this done,” Longo said. “It’s a project that will benefit thousands of people in every age group.”

The funds were carried over into FY 2020. Once it was clear that the funds would be available, McGrath said, there were limited windows of time during which the work could be done due to the heavy activity schedule in the Drill Hall.

“If it couldn’t be done in the spring, it had to be put off until after the summer,” he said. The floor will now be inaccessible for the next month or so while the work is being done. That means that, among other things, the highly popular pickle ball program is on hold.

“But everyone is excited to get the new floor,” McGrath said. “This was not a want. This was a need.”

The plan is to go with a more Wakefield-centric color scheme for the striping of the new basketball courts and a theme that reflects the history of the building in other areas.

McGrath is grateful to Mystic Industries across Main Street from the Civic Center for agreeing to store the basketball backboards and hoops while the work is being done, and to Howe’s Towing for transporting the heavy backboards and hoops to their temporary home.

McGrath acknowledged that the key will be maintaining the new floor once it’s done. He is looking into buying or renting a machine to make sure the upkeep is done properly.

New England Sports Floors is installing the new maple flooring and should be finished by the week of Oct. 18, McGrath said.

“We could have repaired some boards but those would have been band aids and we’d have been putting good money into bad,” McGrath said. “I wanted to rip off the band aid and stop the bleeding. This project will solve that. It’s a big investment and the down time stings, but the trade-off is priceless. Safety will no longer be a concern. I think everyone will be pleased with the end result.”