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Playground Dangers

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One article passed at last week’s Special Town Meeting will address safety concerns at neglected parks

Playing basketball on the courts of Evans Playground can be hazardous to your health – whether you are a child or an adult. A giant hole visible at the center of one of the two courts fills with water on rainy days.

“It looks like an asteroid hit it,” said Madison Hunt, a counselor who works at Saugus Youth and Recreation Center. “It looks just like a crater,” she said

The town’s Youth and Recreation Director, Gregory Nickolas, describes the court as too dangerous to play on because of that hole in the court surface.

“I’d love to run my summer league there,” said Nickolas, who noted the courts “could be a real nice centerpiece … But I can’t because it’s a safety issue. I can’t run an organized basketball league there because it’s unsafe.”

A recent evaluation of town’s parks and playgrounds compiled by the town’s Department of Public Works described the courts as being in “bad condition” and recommended that they be replaced for $50,000. The evaluation also recommended that the fence that’s leaning and falling apart on the perimeter of the courts be replaced for $35,000.

Those repairs might soon get done as a result of an article passed at last week’s Special Town Meeting, which transfers $500,000 from the town’s certified “free cash” account to pay for maintenance and repairs of the parks and playgrounds in town where the safety hazards are considered the most serious.

“40 to 50 years of neglect”

Safety issues that need to be addressed at the town’s parks, fields and playgrounds are “the most visible” at the Evans playground, Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree told Town Meeting members last week.

Crabtree points with pride at the $2 million parks and playground project that he initiated at last year’s Annual Town Meeting. The project included improvements at the Veterans Memorial School playground, new tennis courts at the Belmonte Middle School and improvements at Bristow Street Park.

At last week’s Special Town Meeting, Crabtree requested and got support to address safety concerns at Saugus’s other long-neglected playgrounds and fields. “We’re trying to get a handle on 40 to 50 years of neglect of our parks and playgrounds,” Crabtree said as he argued for Article 2.

“We have some nice capital projects we’ve done, but the other parks and playgrounds are in disarray,” Crabtree said. Some of the park conditions are so bad that children have been hurt, according to the town manager.

Nickolas has years of knowledge – some of it from personal experience – as to how dangerous some of the parks and playgrounds are. “In my report and the pictures I sent to the previous administration outlining the hazards, my son was one of those children who got hurt really bad,” Nickolas told a Special Town Meeting that convened Monday night.

“Since I’ve been here – a lifelong resident – nothing has been done. And they just continue to deteriorate,” Nickolas said of many of the town’s parks and playgrounds waiting for improvements to correct unsafe conditions. Evaluations of the park and playground conditions were submitted in 2007 and again in 2009, he said.

But problems at the recreational facilities went neglected at most of the places until last week’s vote.

DPW list recommends $3.5 million in improvements

Some of the fields are downright dangerous, Nickolas said.

Those are the ones that will receive priority attention from the $500,000 the town has to work with, according to Crabtree. The work will be done, addressing the updated deficiencies from the list compiled by the DPW, the town manager said.

But there are more problems than funds that are available, the town manager said. The $500,000 set aside to address safety issues is just a fraction of nearly $3.5 million in recommended improvements on the DPW list. But it’s a starting point, Crabtree said.

Town Meeting Member Eugene Decareau of Precinct 8 said he doesn’t like the idea of voting for “a blank half million.”

“I want to know in detail when we we’re doing it, how we’re going to do it and who’s doing it,” Decareau said.

Crabtree said the biggest safety issues will be addressed first. “There are still a lot of safety issues. Kids in our community are getting injured and hurt,” Crabtree said.

Nickolas, who is in charge of permitting the fields, said some are too dangerous to permit for public use “because the fields are in such deplorable condition.” He said he will be highlighting those areas that need to be addressed immediately.

In many instances, “nothing has been done, since I was a kid, for goodness sakes,” Nickolas told Town Meeting members.

A wish list for parks and playgrounds

Here is summary of the DPW’s evaluation of town parks and playgrounds, listing the key recommendations and total dollar amount of estimated costs:

Anna Parker Playground: $195,300. The parking lot is in “moderate to poor condition” and should be replaced for about $80,000. Park-wide fencing should be replaced for $75,000.

Lynnhurst Elementary School Playground: $391,750. The fence around the basketball and tennis courts should be replaced for $100,000 combined. A paved area at school is in “moderate to poor condition” and should be reclaimed and paved for $200,000.

Stackpole: $1,342,050. The baseball field is in “moderate to poor condition” and should receive substantial improvements. The Red Building is in “moderate to poor condition” and should be replaced for $150,000. There’s another recommendation to replace fence for $300,000. “Stackpole should be replaced with a turf field for at least football, but most likely baseball too. This would require a capital investment,” the evaluation recommends.

Bristow Playground: $99,600. There’s a recommendation to spend more than $30,000 on replacing 650 feet of fence.

Belmonte Middle School Playground: $278,700. There’s a recommendation to reclaim and pave the play area near World Series Park for $200,000.

Stocker Fields and Playground: $482,200. There are recommendations to replace one set of wooden stands for $30,000 and 400 feet of fence for $20,000. There is also a recommendation for $250,000 to pave the parking lot. “Consider building a water park in this area as well as a canoe/kayak launch area.”

Evans Playground: $293,500. Replacing the basketball courts that are in “bad condition” for $50,000 is the major recommendation. There is also a recommendation for $50,000 to replace the tennis court and another $35,000 to replace the fence around the courts. There is another recommendation for $60,000 to repair and replace paving and fix a sinking parking lot.

Oaklandvale Elementary School Playground: $82,900. This includes a recommendation for $15,000 to replace playground equipment and another $15,000 to replace benches in a playground area.

Veterans Memorial Elementary School Playground: $39,300. This includes $20,000 for miscellaneous paving.

Golden Hills Playground: $53,000. This includes $15,000 to replace playground equipment. The evaluation also notes that a piece of land adjacent to the park has been donated to the town and “could result in a significant expansion and improvement to this area,” according to the evaluation.

Prankers Pond: $36,000. This includes money to replace benches and for a new gate and a dock.

Waybright School Playground: $177,100. The basketball court is described as in “moderate to bad condition” and should be replaced for $50,000, the evaluation recommends. The Minor League baseball field is described as in “poor condition” and should be replaced for $62,000, which includes the cost of the field and replacement of the backstop and dugout fences.

Total: $3,471,400.

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