By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Residents who live near the 12th Avenue Playground said a plan by the city to address their concerns about excessive noise and profanity during basketball games there is already showing results.
At last night’s City Council meeting, recreation department head Vincent Ouellette outlined steps being taken to curb the problems, saying things are already improving.
From stepped up police enforcement of the park’s curfew to speaking with some of the people who were gathering at the park to play basketball and pointing out the need to curb the profanity, neighbors agree that the plan is working.
“What Vinny is doing is great and we’re already noticing improvements,” 11th Avenue resident Irene MacAvoy said immediately following Ouellette’s presentation. “There was already a curfew in place, but now it’s being enforced and that’s a good thing.”
Neighbors complained to the City Council at its Oct. 1 meeting that noise from basketball games at the park this summer was making life miserable. Eight neighbors asked the council to crack down on noise and profanity in the park.
“All we wanted to have was a little peace and quiet and not hear any foul language,” Irene MacAvoy said.
Ouellette said Mayor James Fiorentini asked him to look into the matter and come up with a set of recommendations.
Ouellette told the council that the plan also includes an outreach program by ValleyWorks to match older teens and young adults who have been gathering at the park with training and jobs.
“I believe the things we set forward will alleviate the problem come next spring,” Ouellette said.
The plan also calls for offering open gym basketball in the evening at Nettle and Whittier middle schools, which Ouellette said the principals of those schools have approved.
Players will be asked to register with the Recreation Department, which will oversee the indoor games and encourage proper behavior. During the school year, Nettle’s gym will be open Mondays and Wednesdays from 6 to 8:30 p.m., and Whittier’s gym will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Councilor William Macek, who brought the issue before the council after receiving a complaint from a neighbor, noted the opening of the two school gymnasiums as a positive move.
“That’s fantastic,” Macek said. “It’s a great addition to what we already offer, including outdoor playgrounds.”
Ouellette said the city is also considering building a 6 or 7-foot tall stockade fence of some sort between the basketball court and neighboring homes to deaden the sound of basketball games.
Andrew Harrison, 12, attended last night’s meeting along with his brothers Sam, 7, Joseph, 9, and Matthew, 14. They were with their grandmother, Sharon Cannata, who they and their mother live with on 12th Avenue.
“It’s so much better now,” Andrew told The Eagle-Tribune. “We have a police guy who comes at certain times and checks on things.”
“It makes us feel more safe to play there now,” he added. “And the older kids who play there aren’t swearing any more.”
Ouellette said the current basketball hoops, poles and backboards create an annoying “clank” when missed shots hit the rims and the sound reverberates throughout the neighborhood. He said the poles and hoops will be replaced with a much quieter single pole system, similar to what the city installed at Cashman’s Field and Swasey Field, Ouellette said.
Ouellette said another facet of the plan is to speed up renovations to nearby Portland Street Playground, so residents of that neighborhood have another basketball court to play on instead of the 12th Avenue Playground.
The community organization Team Haverhill is working in partnership with the city and the neighborhood to renovate the Portland Street Playground and will host a community meeting to discuss the plan on Nov. 20 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Parish Hall at Trinity Episcopal Church.