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Playground is in the swing; Vernon Hill facility supported.

Byline: Nick Kotsopoulos

WORCESTER - On hold since July, a playground planned for Glodis Field on Providence Street appears to be moving forward after a majority of people attending a community meeting expressed support last night.

But opponents of the project question the validity of a vote that was taken on the project, claiming that some of the playground's supporters should not have been allowed to vote because they are not among those who have been affected by the relocation of the city's leaf composting operation to the former Ballard Street landfill.

When the city relocated the composting operating from Hope Cemetery to Ballard Street last year, city officials proposed building a new playground at Glodis Field, at 239 Providence St. and adjacent to Vernon Hill School, as a "gesture to show the city's gratitude" to residents who live near the Ballard Street landfill site.

The playground, which would serve children ages 2 to 12, is expected to cost about $300,000 and would be paid for by using capital funds from the city's sewer enterprise account. No tax-levy money would be used.

But several residents who live near the landfill, in the vicinity of Gibbs Street, Svenson Street and Dane Avenue, have opposed the new playground. They contend the playground would not be an amenity for their neighborhood because it is not near where they live, and they would rather see the money spent on other improvements.

"This has nothing to do with the composting site and giving back to the people of our area," said Susan Kiely of 25 Gibbs St. "This is of no benefit to us. The people most affected by the compost site do not want to see $300,000 spent on a new playground. This kind of spending has to stop."

About 30 people attended the community meeting, held in the library at Vernon Hill School. About 750 notices had been sent out.

The meeting became rather contentious at times as advocates and opponents of the park spoke passionately about its need.

Robert C. Antonelli Jr., assistant commissioner of parks, recreation and cemetery, said the playground would be divided into two areas - one for children ages 2 to 5 and a larger area for children ages 5 to 12. He said Glodis Field was selected as the site for the playground because of the lack of available public land in the area of the Ballard Street landfill.

Mr. Antonelli said the city is able to use money from the sewer enterprise account to fund the playground project because it is tied into the leaf composting operation, which is also funded out of the sewer account.

He said parents and staff at the Vernon Hill School were interested in having the playground built next to the school and have even raised money for the purchase of some of the equipment through the school's Parent Teacher Organization.

Joanna S. Bowolick, principal of the Vernon Hill School, said the 400 students who attend the school have no playground to enjoy, unlike many other schools in the city. She said the school's playground area largely consists of an uneven paved parking lot behind the school building.

"I think our children deserve a playground," Ms. Bowolick said.

But opponents of the project questioned the need of building a new playground there, especially since there is already a playground across the street in nearby Vernon Hill Park, which will soon be undergoing a $600,000 renovation of its own.

They also asked why the city wanted to build a new playground when city officials recently said they cannot keep up with the maintenance of its existing 60 parks and 35 playgrounds because of budget constraints.

District 3 City Councilor Paul P. Clancy Jr. said the playground was intended to give something back to the area, but he added that if a majority of people don't want it, the project will not move forward.

"Usually, you don't see this kind of opposition when it comes to a playground," Mr. Clancy said. "Still, this is a community decision. If people don't want it, we won't build it."

Councilor-at-Large Joseph M. Petty said he felt the playground was an excellent project because it addresses quality-of-life issues.

"This is something that is well deserved for this neighborhood and its kids," Mr. Petty said.

After nearly an hour of discussion, Mr. Antonelli asked for a show of hands regarding the project: 18 people supported it, while eight opposed it.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 28, 2008
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