SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 13, 2014

Plans underway to revamp playground at Peabody park

By John Castelluccio
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — The city is due to receive up to $200,000 in a state grant to replace a tiny playground at MacArthur Park with a bigger, better play space and tie the park into a system of walking trails in South Peabody. There’s even talk of a braille trail.

The plan is to remove the existing structures — a swing set, slide and a stationary vehicle — regrade the land, enlarge the 3,000-square-foot play area, install new equipment over a rubber surface and create an entryway to a new trail system.

Several trees would also be planted to act as a natural border instead of fencing, and the backstop for the baseball field would be repaired. No changes are slated for the basketball court.

City Parks and Recreation Director Jen Davis said she’s considering kiosks with braille signs at a trail head and along the trail. It’s a newer concept she heard about at a conference and wouldn’t be a huge undertaking. Rope could be used as a guide between informational kiosks.

The park is in what state officials call an Environmental Justice neighborhood — it’s near a low-income area with no other parks or playgrounds nearby. The designation is a major factor in the city securing the state grant.

MacArthur is at least a mile away from the three closest parks.

“The land has been used for over 100 years as a park, but the structures are very minimal,” said Davis. “They’re in OK shape, but they’re not very exciting or inviting.”

She wants to add more non-traditional play structures and engaging equipment, similar to the new Welch School playground.

Ward 1 Councilor Barry Osborne says it’s about time, calling the project “a wise choice” for the area. He’s also pleased to see the connection with the nature trails.

Davis anticipates spending about $150,000 for the playground equipment and said the rubber surfacing could cost an extra $35,000.

It’s a heavy duty recycled rubber and just like “a big cushion,” she said. “You might pay for it upfront, but...it’s going to last a lot longer.” And it’s safer, she added.

Additional project criteria were that it boost the city’s green infrastructure, is located in a newly dedicated parkland area, increases environmental equity, includes tree planting and has some city funding.

The link to nature will be creating a trail head at the park — and possibly extending it to the Veterans Memorial Drive housing project — to connect to an undeveloped network of walking trails across 206 acres in South Peabody from Spring Pond to Sidney’s Pond.

The city has done some preliminary work on the trail system the past few years, but is still trying to secure major funding to clear and improve existing paths while adding new paths and related amenities.

Davis envisions an archway at the new trail head with signs announcing entry to the trail network. Some poison ivy and brush will have to be cleared.

The city had to submit two proposals for the Our Common Backyard grant program. The state chose MacArthur Park over an improvement plan for Lalikos Park off Lowell Street.

Before the project can move forward, the City Council must approve the submission of the grant application, dedicate the land for park and recreation purposes and agree to fully fund the project at $250,000.

Once votes are in place, the city will pursue contracts for designs and construction. The project needs to be complete by Dec. 31.

The city can apply for state reimbursement up to $200,000 once construction is finished. Davis said it remains to be decided how the city will pay its $50,000.

Even though the park has always been a park, it’s not recorded that way at the Registry of Deeds, said Davis, and exact language is needed for the grant. The Park Commission voted June 5 to that end.

The City Council received the related documents on Thursday, but did not take a vote that night.

You can reach John Castelluccio at 978-338-2527, jcastelluccio@salemnews.com or via Twitter at @SNjcastelluccio.