By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — The $1.2 million renovation of Swasey Field was supposed to be done by now, allowing children to play baseball on a new diamond and cool off at a water park.
The project at the 14-acre field was also to provide walking paths for neighbors of the surrounding inner-city Mount Washington neighborhood.
But because heavy rains earlier in the year washed away grass seed planted at the park in the final phase of the project, the city is unable to open the park to the public.
City officials said the rain washed away seed that was planted in a section of the park where water spray devices were installed for the water park. By the time the remaining seed took hold, hot weather sparked the growth of weeds. Bare spots were left as well.
“There are still areas where the grass has not grown,” said Vincent Ouellette, the city’s recreation director. “If we accept the park the way that it is, we void the warranty. And once we open it we have to accept the whole park, not a section of it.”
Under construction since last year, the rebuilt section of the park includes a new spray park, walking paths, benches, a new baseball diamond and other amenities. Temporary fencing surrounds the area and signs are posted for no trespassing. Ouellette said the fencing cannot be taken down until the city accepts the $1.2 million project as being completed.
“The contractor still has responsibility for the park because the grass has not fully grown,” Ouellette said. “They have the responsibility of care and upkeep until the park is accepted by the city.
“We could always opt to say we’ll take our chances and open the park, but the responsibility would then lie with the city and if damages happened and the city would have to make repairs and reseed,” Ouellette said. “Right now it’s the contractor’s responsibility.”
Ouellette said the contractor plans to reseed the area next week and apply a herbicide. He said if the grass grows well, the park could be open by mid- to late September. And if the weather is warm enough, the city might turn on the water to the new spray park.
The spray park has stations including a tall fixture that resembles a sunflower and will rain down on children, and another that has hoops kids can run or crawl through to get a good soaking. 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.
Built in 1910 for shoe factory workers and their families, Swasey Field is undergoing many improvements this year and next.
About half of the park has been closed since last summer while renovations were taking place. A new Little League size baseball diamond with amenities such as new team benches, fencing, irrigation and a backstop is in place, although it cannot be opened until the grass grows. A new walking trail throughout the park and handicap accessibility features are in place as well.
Ouellette said the second phase of the project will begin in July of 2014 and includes rebuilding the senior league baseball diamond in the middle of Swasey Field and the youth baseball diamond near the basketball courts, which will be redesigned. Additions will be made to the walking path and a sledding path will be created at the rear of the field.
For every dollar the city is putting towards renovating Swasey Field, the state is providing about $10. Work began last summer on the 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.
The city provided children in the neighborhood with some relief from the heat when it set up a water cannon at Swasey Field during the early July heat wave. The water canon was also operating there last week.