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Ayer Shirley athletic fields project launches with shovels and smiles

Surrounded by members of the athletic fields subcommittee and the construction crew, former Ayer Shirley Public Schools Superintendent Mary Malone (in white and holding shovels) gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the new complex last week.
Surrounded by members of the athletic fields subcommittee and the construction crew, former Ayer Shirley Public Schools Superintendent Mary Malone (in white and holding shovels) gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the new complex last week.
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AYER — The athletic fields complex, so long in coming, is finally a reality.

“How long … four years?” asked former Ayer Shirley Regional School District Superintendent Mary Malone, who headed up the latest fields committee and presided over the groundbreaking ceremony last week.

Coaches who attended the event agreed it’s been awhile, more like seven years, they said. But now the work has begun, with heavy equipment and construction crews from M.J. Cataldo and Construction Dynamics, on the $5.2 million project.

“There are so many people to thank,” said School Committee Chairman Michele Granger, who serves on the fields subcommittee. The contractors, for example. “They have been wonderful to work with and even started early,” she said.

Thanks were also given to Robert Norton, whose family made a substantial donation to the project and who has been part of the process all along. According to subcommittee members, he has attended almost every meeting and contributed valuable input.

He is the only son of the late Harold B. Norton, after whom the original football field was named. The new complex will be named for the former Ayer superintendent as well.

A plaque will be erected in a stone on the grounds, presenting a biopic that highlights the elder Mr. Norton’s dedication to students and to school sports.

Robert Norton couldn’t make it to the ceremony. But he sent a message, which Granger read aloud.

It read, in part: “When I first met Superintendent Malone several years ago, she took great pride in showing me the beautifully reconstruction high school, but was quick to point out that the athletic fields needed to catch up with the rest of the physical plant.”

“And now after a few starts and stops we can begin the completion of our vision of a first class athletic complex. Our family is honored to retain my father’s name with the newly enhanced facilities. My dad loved the towns of Ayer and Shirley and especially its young people.” Norton also noted that he had married “a Shirley girl,” Janice, and that he believed his dad took “special pleasure” in that.

“If he could be here now, he would have a shovel by the handle and tell us all to get on with it. So let’s get on with it,” Norton wrote.

A reception with light refreshments was held after the brief groundbreaking ceremony.

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