HAVERHILL — One of the poorest neighborhoods in the city is also home to one of the most neglected playgrounds.
But city officials, along with the Team Haverhill community improvement organization, are looking to turn things around by renovating the Portland Street Playground.
Plans have been in the works for about a year to give the playground a total face lift, and this spring and summer those plans will turn into action.
City officials said it’s an area that needs attention and now is the time.
Neighborhood residents gathered recently with community volunteers and Mayor James Fiorentini to review plans and build support for the complete renovation of this inner-city playground.
Recreation Department Director Vincent Ouellette said that over the years, several groups have adopted it and have cleaned it, but it has become difficult to maintain the area. From time to time, people moving out of the neighborhood dump furniture and other items in the playground.
Located on the section of Portland Street that is between 4th and 5th avenues, the playground was the site of a public school until the building was demolished decades ago.
The last major renovation to the court was about 25 years ago, when the city received a grant from the Boston Celtics and Bank of Boston. The two organizations were providing grants to renovate inner-city basketball courts across the state. The work involved laying down a new top coat of asphalt over the existing court, along with the installation of news poles, backboards and rims.
Then in the late 1990s, the city learned the original basketball court on the site was built over buried tree stumps.
Ouellette said that over the years the court has been sinking and heaving, especially around the backboard area, and must be replaced.
”We are working with Covanta Energy, which volunteered to remove all the old asphalt and tree stumps and bring in clean fill to bring the site to sidewalk grade,” Ouellette said. “Then the city will pave the area for the basketball court and will replace the hoops, backboards and rims.”
About 10 years ago, Brightside installed a small play area, including a slide and climbing apparatus.
The project to renovate the playground is a partnership between the city and Team Haverhill, with participation by numerous individuals, businesses and nonprofit groups.
Alice Mann, vice president of Team Haverhill, said the volunteer organization wants to lead the effort to rebuild the playground and has recruited people who they expect will use the playground.
Mann said Team Haverhill will match the city’s financial investment dollar for dollar, and provide volunteer leadership for the project.
Preliminary plans for the site include replacing and repositioning the swings and adding a large new play structure with multiple play activities, and creating a new, family-friendly grassy area in the middle of the site with seating and tables, in order to draw parents and grandparents to the site with their children and to encourage a range of positive activities.
The plan also calls for repositioning and rebuilding the basketball court to provide a safe setting for players, creating more visibility from the street by removing a chain-link fence on the street side of the site, and lowering a section of a fieldstone wall to serve as extra seating.
Team Haverhill is working with various city departments to arrange for other improvements such as sidewalk repairs and security cameras.
During the Earth Day city-wide cleanup on April 26, Team Haverhill volunteers will focus on the Portland Street Playground site and the surrounding area. At 11 a.m. that day, Team Haverhill will conduct an informal community meeting at the playground site, with refreshments, in order to update neighbors about the renovation plans and announce a date for the “Community Build” day when the playground equipment will be installed.
Notices of events related to the renovation will be posted from time to time on signboards at the playground site.
Two opportunities have just been announced for community participation in this important project. Team Haverhill is raising $25,000 to match the city’s cash investment in the renovation, and community members can help achieve that goal.
Fundraising events include a “Friday Fun Night” on May 2 to benefit the playground. The Haverhill YMCA on Winter Street will open its doors from 6 to 9 p.m. with more than a dozen activities for children in kindergarten through grade five (parents welcome too), plus pizza and a drink. Cost is $10 for one child and $20 for a family. To register, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the YMCA at 978-374-0506, ext.1603. Register by April 25 to avoid the $2 fee for last-minute registrations. Checks payable to “Haverhill YMCA” may be dropped off at 81 Winter St.
Team Haverhill has also established a crowd-funding site that can be promoted through personal social networks. The link for donating and for sharing with your network is www.gofundme.com/80kx4o. This information is also available the Facebook page for Team Haverhill.
In addition, community members can visit Team Haverhill’s “Playground Project” booth at KidsFest on May 18 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. This well-attended annual event is sponsored by the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, and will be held this year at Kimball Farm.