By Neil H. Dempsey
---- — SALEM — The city wants Mary Jane Lee Park to make a splash.
Officials have plans to build a “water activity splash pad” in the park, which is located in the Point neighborhood. A splash pad is a children’s attraction that typically features fountains and possibly a basin.
“Essentially, it’s an area of the playground where different kinds of water sprays, fountains, etc., provide a place for families to ... beat the heat, without the expense or space consumption of a pool,” said Dominick Pangallo, Mayor Kim Driscoll’s chief of staff.
The project would be funded by a $200,000 state grant, which would also cover the cost of bringing new benches, trees and shade structures to the park. The grant requires no matching funds from the city, but construction needs to be completed by the end of this calendar year, and the city must spend its own money and then get reimbursed.
The City Council must approve that expenditure. The proposal came up briefly at last week’s council meeting before councilors sent it to a subcommittee for study.
The project could end up costing more than the $200,000 price tag, if soil at the park is found to be contaminated, as has been the case at other city parks. It’s unclear how much that would cost to remediate, though the city has already set aside some federal grant money to help pay for it.
“The city has found contamination when making improvements to other parks, so it has set aside a contingency to be prepared for the possibility,” said Tom Devine, a staff planner for the city. “It is unknown whether there is any contamination underground at the park.”
At the council meeting, Councilor Todd Siegel suggested testing the site for contamination before committing to paying for the project. Council President Robert McCarthy responded that if tests were done, the city would be obligated to clean up any contamination it finds, regardless of whether it decides to go forward with park improvements.
“If we do that test, we’re still going to have to spend the money,” McCarthy said. “As soon as you put a shovel in the ground, and it’s tested and it’s known, then you’re on the hook.”
Another issue that came up at the meeting was making sure that any park improvements would be cared for, so that the site wouldn’t fall into disrepair, as has happened in the past. Devine said the splash pad would be a “permanent part of the park,” and it would be durable.
“It will be designed to withstand the wear and tear expected at a public park,” he said.
If the council approves the project, the city will bring in an architect to study the park, keeping in mind the Point Neighborhood Vision and Action Plan, the city’s seven-year plan guiding neighborhood improvements and redevelopment. The architect would lead at least one meeting about the proposed changes, at which the public would be solicited for input.
The park possibly could see other improvements, such as better lighting. The city has received a number of complaints about lighting at the park.
Devine said the city will also use the opportunity to draw up longer-term plans for the park, saying the architect would create a conceptual plan for future improvements.
City councilors will discuss the matter at a committee meeting Thursday, April 24, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.