EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 22, 2013

Playground makeover not halted by grant loss

Groups vow to improve inner-city area for children

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — Groups raising money to rebuild Portland Street Playground have lost their bid for a $85,000 grant, but said it won’t affect their plans to start work as soon as next spring.

Team Haverhill leader Alice Mann said her civic volunteer group has agreed to match the city’s $25,000 pledge toward work at the inner-city playground. She said the project will focus on a new children’s playground and rebuilding a basketball court that is sinking because it was built over buried tree stumps.

The city’s money is coming from a federal grant and Team Haverhill is still raising its cash, Mann said. Organizers are also seeking another $25,000 in services and materials from local companies that specialize in excavation and construction, she said.

Organizers of the playground makeover applied for the $85,000 grant from the non-profit Kaboom organization, which builds playgrounds nationwide. The grant was not approved.

Mann said Team Haverhill is working on the project with Community Action Inc., the Haverhill Clergy Association and a spiritual group called The Vine. She said they hope to begin work on the improvements next spring or summer and finish by fall 2014.

The playground is between 4th and 5th avenues in the city’s Acre neighborhood. It was the site of a public school until the building was demolished decades ago. In recent years, it has often been a dumping ground for furniture.

Mann said Team Haverhill did much community networking for the project this summer, building relationships and partnerships with other civic organizations, local churches and people who live near the playground to build support.

“The easy part is raising the money,” Mann said. “The hard part is keeping the community involved so they feel that they can maintain the playground when it’s done and keep it safe.”

Team Haverhill is developing four to six design sketches showing what the improvements could look like, with an emphasis on the basketball court and a new, modern playground, Mann said.

She said organizers plan to hold a community event this fall to get feedback on the design sketches from parents and others who live near the park.

Mann said anyone who wants to be notified about that design meeting should contact Team Haverhill at www.team.haverhill@comcast.net and she will send them a personal invitation.

Mayor James Fiorentini said the city money will come from Haverhill’s Community Development Block Grant program. He said the donation is part of his commitment to improving parks and playgrounds in the city.

“It’s an area that is in need of attention,” Recreation Department head Vincent Ouellette said of the Portland Street playground. “Over the years, numerous groups have adopted it and have cleaned it.”

City Council approved the city’s financial commitment to the project earlier this year.

“Everyone benefits when city government, civic volunteer and religious organizations, neighborhoods and individual volunteers work together to achieve a common goal,” Councilor Colin LePage said. “The Portland Street playground is another example of the growing community spirit in Haverhill.”