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Playground proposal draws anger.

Byline: Clive McFARLANE

COLUMN: CLIVE MCFARLANE

I guess I shouldn't be so shocked at the venom being spewed at a proposed playground for kids who attend Vernon Hill School and live in that neighborhood.

After all, nobody seems to care anymore about where the children play. Playground equipment such as slides, swings and jungle gyms can only be found at two of the city's 33 elementary schools.

"We don't do playgrounds," Eugene Olearczyk, plant manager for the Worcester public schools, once said.

Fortunately for the kids who attend Vernon Hill Elementary School, a parent found a way to get them a playground. Unfortunately, this parent and the playground are taking a lot grief from certain residents, who frankly need to get a grip.

I took this issue up in my previous column. Briefly, the main points are these:

Now that schools have passed their supplies and extracurricular budgets onto the back of parents, Lin Hultgren and other members of the school's PTO sought grants and conducted fundraisers to get seed money for a playground adjacent to the school.

The city, which had promised to compensate residents who endured municipal landfill and composting operations in the Quinsigamond Village and Vernon Hill area, chipped in the bulk of the money to build the playground.

But some residents in the Granite Street and Gibbs Street area argue that the former landfill on Ballard Street, now the site of an extensive city composting operation, impacts them the most, and that putting a playground at the Vernon Hill School does nothing for them.

"Oh my God! I never expected all this to happen," Ms. Hultgren, the parent who got the ball rolling on the playground, wrote to me.

"We only wanted a playground for our children. I expected some valid concerns, which were expressed at the meeting, those of safety, trash, etc., but never in a million years did I ever expect anything like this!"

The "this" she referred to were comments such as the following:

"Granite Street families and Gibbs Street families have been dealing with this issue for three years now. Did any of the Vernon Hill residents come to help them out with the composting?" one reader wrote in response to my first column.

"Go smell your worse smelling rotten garbage bag, you know the kind that smells so bad you gag ... Well, imagine sitting in your own backyard and smelling that day after day after day," another reader wrote.

"...Well, that's my air in my own back yard ... So yeah, let's all play in peace while we Granite Street neighbors suffocate in our own backyards."

"Worcester doesn't need to build another playground that nobody will use," another reader wrote. "Gibbs Street is full of potholes that the city keeps patching over, but the holes continue to open up. How bout using the $300k to totally repave Gibbs St. and get rid of our pothole problem?"

Sue Kiely, who is opposing incumbent Paul P. Clancy Jr. in the race for the District 3 City Council seat, said, "We didn't want nor need an amenity. We wanted, and have received, proper caretaking of the compost site.

"The cost of that is enough amenity for us. We do not want to hear next year or the year after that there is no money in the Sewer Enterprise Fund because it went to build a Tot Lot."

Maybe these residents have a valid reason to gripe. It must be an awful thing to live in a section of the city that burns our garbage.

The fact, as claimed by city officials, that the city has donated most of its land in the Granite Street area to the Audubon Society shouldn't get in the way of building something in that area that residents can truly appreciate.

But surely these residents can make their case without taking it out on the Vernon Hill School and neighborhood kids.

Why begrudge these kids a place to play?

To kill this playground project simply because it doesn't benefit them directly would be an action beyond shortsighted.

It would be a blindness that stinks far more than the composting stench with which they have been living all these years.

Contact Clive McFarlane via e-mail at cmcfarlane@telegram.com
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 5, 2007
Words:707
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