By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Kids looking to beat the heat this summer will soon have a new place to cool off and have some fun. A spray park that was installed at Swasey Field is scheduled to open later this summer and will offer a variety of water sprinkling stations in an area about the size of a basketball court. The stations include a tall fixture that resembles a sunflower and will rain down on children. Another has hoops kids can run or crawl through to get a good soaking, making it cool to be at Swasey on a hot and sweltering day. The water will spray on a preset cycle, creating a bit of suspense for children, and an automatic timer will shut off the flow at night.
“The spray park is unique to the neighborhood,” said Vincent Ouellette, the city’s recreation director. “Many residents in the area don’t have pools and will have the option of going to Plug Pond or coming to the spray park.”
“Kids really love spray parks,” Ouellette added. “It’s a safe way to cool off and also offers a surprise as kids won’t know when the water will be coming on.”
Built in 1910 for shoe factory workers and their families, Swasey Field is undergoing a host of improvements this year and next. The city plans to reopen one section of the park this summer, including an area where a playset was installed several years ago. Other new elements include the spray park, walking paths and stone walls.
“What we tried to do was incorporate the old wall that was around the old wading pool and expand it to fully encase the play area as well as a large portion of the spray park,” Ouellette said, noting the spray park’s base is a hard rubber material that repels water and is typically used in spray parks.
About half of the 14-acre park has been closed since last summer while renovations took place. A new Little League size baseball diamond with amenities such as new team benches, fencing, irrigation and a backstop is expected to ready for a July opening as well, along with a walking trail throughout the park and handicap accessibility features which are in place.
Other fields that are open this summer in Haverhill include Riverside Park, which has new swings this year, Cashman’s Field on Hilldale Avenue, the 12th Avenue Playground, Plug Pond, Winnekenni Park, which is getting new swings soon, as well as ball fields located on the grounds of various city schools. Repairs to the tennis courts at Winnekenni Park will be made this summer, Ouellette said.
For every dollar the city is putting towards renovating Swasey Field, the state is providing about $10. Work began last summer on the $1.2 million project intended to enhance this public recreational area in many ways.
The project is being paid for by a $1.1 million State Parks Grant intended to fund enhancements to parks and recreational facilities, plus a matching $100,000 from the city. The state was looking for a matching amount and Haverhill used $100,000 out of the $857,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money it was awarded last year, officials said.
Last summer, Mayor James Fiorentini, along with Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard Sullivan Jr. and state Rep. Brian Dempsey, looked over plans to improve Swasey, which celebrated its 100 year anniversary three years ago.
Sullivan said the state provided Haverhill with the $1.1 million Gateway City Parks Program grant in support of the Patrick administration’s effort to provide good quality parks in urban communities.
The design for Swasey Field was created by the Boston firm of Brown, Richardson & Rowe Inc., landscape architects and planners, who are working with the city and the Gateway City Parks Program on this project.
Ouellette said the second phase of the project, which the city expects will be paid for through another grant, will begin in July of 2014. Phase two includes rebuilding the senior league baseball diamond in the middle of Swasey Field and the youth baseball diamond near the basketball courts. Additions will be made to the walking path and a sledding path will be created.
The Gateway City Parks Initiative assists communities in developing or restoring public parks in underserved urban neighborhoods in Gateway cities in Massachusetts. According to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, 24 Massachusetts cities are eligible for the program, which targets communities with population greater than 35,000 and median household incomes and educational attainment levels below the state average.