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Northeastern, city break ground on new Carter Playground

Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, elected officials, and members of the Northeastern and local communities raise their shovels at the groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday morning at the new William E. Carter Playground on Columbus Avenue. Photo by Billie Weiss for Northeastern University

Northeastern University and the city of Boston broke ground Tuesday morning on the new William E. Carter Playground on Columbus Avenue, the result of a unique public-private partnership that involves developing a state-of-the-art athletic complex and expanded recreation opportunities for city residents and Northeastern students.

At the ceremony, Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun announced that the children’s area at the park will be dedicated to alumna Victoria McGrath, who was injured in the 2013 marathon bombing and then died in a tragic accident overseas last year. McGrath, DMSB’16, was known on campus and in the community for her volunteer work and her involvement with Peace Through Play, a group that organizes after-school programming for children in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Cambridge.

“Victoria was very dedicated to the young minds,” Aoun said. “She made them believe in themselves and believe in the future.”

After Tuesday’s ceremony, Victoria’s parents, Jim and Jill McGrath, said they were humbled by attending the event and noted that the playground dedication is a fitting tribute to their daughter’s legacy.

“It’s a great honor to Victoria, but more so for the kids,” Jim McGrath said. “Some people might make this about our daughter, but it’s really about the kids who are going to benefit from this, especially the special-needs kids. Victoria had an affinity for working with and helping special-needs children so this is going to be great, and to have her name associated with it is wonderful.”

Myriad benefits for Northeastern and the city

Northeastern will invest more than $100 million to transform and maintain the city-owned Carter Playground. The shared public park—the first in Boston to be named for an African American—is a hub of community and youth sports activity in the city’s South End and Roxbury neighborhoods. Northeastern is also incorporating its existing Camden parking lot into the renovation, thereby increasing the park’s size by nearly 25 percent and making it among the largest city parks or playgrounds in the South End or Roxbury.

The park is a critical public space along the city’s Columbus Avenue Corridor and is used frequently by countless community organizations and city programs. It also serves as an important space for Northeastern’s club and intramural sports programs, which serve nearly 6,000 students each year.

Aoun and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh hailed the project as a transformative opportunity that will benefit both the Northeastern and city communities, calling it a powerful example of the impact of public-private partnerships.

Aoun credited Walsh in particular for his work to bring the project forward. “This didn’t happen by itself,” Aoun said. “We needed a champion, and Mayor Walsh was our champion. He made it happen.”

“We understand that thriving open spaces are key to healthy and successful cities,” Walsh said. “I want thank Northeastern for an incredible investment and for your vision of the Carter Playground.”

As Walsh described how the park will benefit Northeastern students, he said: “I don’t think of them as Northeastern students. I think of them all as our kids because we are one city, and it’s important to understand that this park is truly is a park that will be used by all residents of the city of Boston.”

How Carter Playground will be transformed

The current playing field will be replaced with a state-of-the-art artificial playing surface. The enlarged field area will include regulation-size soccer and football fields as well as two baseball/softball diamonds. The project will also include replacing aging tennis courts with new courts; creating a children’s playground, complete with new play equipment; expanding the size of the park’s open space; and improving its existing connection to the city’s Southwest Corridor Park.


Rendering of the Carter Playground transformation.

Additional enhancements will include improved infrastructure, such as irrigation and drainage, as well as field lighting and scoreboards. The university will place a temporary air structure—or “bubble”—over one of the playing fields during the winter months to extend the availability of the facility for both students and city residents.

At the ceremony, Ty Harding, a seventh-grader from Mattapan, and Jodie Ng, a recent Northeastern graduate, explained how this project will impact Boston youth and college students alike. “It means a lot to have a beautiful field to play on,” said Harding, whose South End Little League teams used the fields, and who underscored the value of having a state-of-the-art playing surface.

Ng, for her part, was involved in club sports throughout her time at Northeastern, including as team treasurer and president. She said these experiences provided both a social outlet and a great leadership opportunity.

“On behalf of all club athletes, I think there’s an incredible feeling of gratitude,” she said. Carter Playground, she added, represents an important investment in students young and old.

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