A small but vocal group of residents from the Watson Park neighborhood refused to lend their support to a proposed splash pad on Tuesday evening despite the belief of town officials, the design architect and other neighbors that the entire project will create more value for families and address on-going parking concerns.
The “Petersen Pad,” as Mayor Joseph Sullivan termed it, will be paid for by Capt. August Julius Petersen money not headed for a pool and ice rink at Braintree High School, and remains in the preliminary planning stage. Tuesday’s meeting, at the administration building next to the park, was formed as a brainstorming session between residents and the working group put together for the project.
The group’s proposal is to build the 3,500-square-foot splash pad in the area just south of the existing playground, construct and formalize a half-mile of walking trails, picnic areas and benches, and add 95 parking spaces in three separate lots.
“We’re here to work with you to get something for East Braintree that is well-deserved,” District 3 Councilor Tom Bowes said, kicking off the discussion.
Residents launched into questions about the plans, some heated, others more detail-oriented, following a brief presentation by Sullivan, Bowes, recreation director Bill Hedlund, councilors Henry Joyce and Leland Dingee, DPW Director Thomas Whalen, East Braintree Civic Association President David Oliva and architect David Warner. Also in attendance for the discussion were councilors John Mullaney and Sean Powers.
The project will cost $250,000, with another $150,000 of Petersen money set aside for maintenance. As proposed, it will be a paved oval split into two sections, for older and younger kids, with both overhead and ground spray mechanisms and various molded shapes for play.
Chlorinated water will be recycled by a pump in an adjacent equipment shed, which will be locked and stand about 10 feet high including its above-grade elevation, Warner said. Children will not need to wear sneakers or other footwear because of how the system cleans itself, and an outdoor shower was not in the preliminary plan, but was proposed by some neighbors on Tuesday.
A gravel or stone dust path will travel from the east end of Gordon Road, along the east side of the playground and lead to a gate where residents can enter the area. The entire splash pad will be surrounded by a 4-foot fence to keep tiny children contained, Warner said, and not as a security measure.
Security and possible vandalism, along with parking, were the most pressing concerns members of the neighborhood expressed to Sullivan and the other town officials.
Residents stated they were worried that older children would damage the facility at night and/or use it as a party spot. The park is already a magnet for underage drinking, some of the neighbors said. Whalen suggested the design might include motion-sensitive lights at night to keep away vandals. Summer hours will likely be from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., Whalen said, with a closing time of about 6 p.m. during other times of the year.
“Anything to increase the use of families is only going to help the neighbors,” stated Mark Donovan, president of the Braintree National Youth League.
Turning from the security issue, some residents criticized the extensive use of the fields at Watson by the baseball league, which they stated lasted through the end of the summer, but which Donovan and others stated wrapped up by August 1. Baseball activities have spurred conflict with neighbors for some time because dozens of vehicles park along Gordon Road and the side streets.
Sullivan stated the plan as put forward on Tuesday goes a long way toward addressing those concerns. Parking lots at the yacht club and toward the middle of the park will both double, from 34 each to 68 spots each, and the town will create a 27-space lot at the far eastern end of Gordon Road where there is now an untended area that residents state children use as a drinking spot.
“Right now parking is very bad,” Sullivan said, acknowledging that some existing no parking signs aren’t working effectively despite what he stated has been an uptick in police patrols. “Enforcement is the issue.”
About 40 people attended the meeting on Tuesday. At one point councilor Joyce asked everyone who supported the proposal to raise their hands. More than three quarters of the room did so, followed by a few hands in opposition. Oliva stated he could not talk for the entire East Braintree Civic Association, but that the majority of the neighbors he talked to were happy to see the updates.
“The splash pad is a fantastic opportunity,” Joyce said. “It’s a fantastic alternative” to the Petersen Pool – long-debated and strongly opposed by many Watson Park neighbors.
If the Petersen Pad goes well, Sullivan said, he envisions two more water parks, possibly at the planned Highlands Playground and Sunset Lake. “These are important things for generations to come,” he said.
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