The Henry Avenue Park Summit

Posted on June 22, 2011

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We watched the dark blue sedan climb the hill toward Henry Avenue Park, its driver anonymous behind the glare of the windshield. At the last moment, it took a left instead of continuing straight into the cul-de-sac that served as the playground’s parking area. “That looked like a drive-by,” said Antonio.

“That’s the kind of drive-by I like,” said Wendy.

Later they explained how Henry Avenue Park would have been a perfect place for buying, selling or using drugs. Before its restoration, the park was as good as abandoned, making it a great place to pull in and shoot up. With the restoration in progress, it was less inviting for this kind of activity.

Now, as a group of 10-15 boys continued to play basketball on the newly refurbished court at the other end of the park, we got ready to leave. Several girls played with a chihuahua puppy. The Boston skyline stood out in the haze of this unseasonably warm, late spring afternoon in 2010; Wendy says she sees seniors and younger kids enjoy the park in the morning.

Earlier, Wendy Joseph and Antonio Gutierrez had a summit at the park with Jamie Marsh, John Moberger and Michael Murray from Lynn’s Office for Economic and Community Development (OECD). I was invited by Joseph to witness. Having previously secured a $10,000 block grant to build a new fence and renovate the basketball court, Wendy and Antonio were not finished. There was more work to be done. The neighborhood needed to see progress.

At least $50,000 would be needed to complete the job, but they would be lucky to get half that the second time around. For starters, a new state-of-the-art play structure of modular steel and plastic construction would cost at least $10,000 and a new fence around the tennis court, $10K, installation not included. You wouldn’t think these things cost as much as they do. All the work needs to be put out to bid and adhere to strict safety codes and union rules.

The purpose of today’s tour is to secure more funding. Inviting Marsh to see firsthand how the park was being used now and improvements made with the $10,000 grant was Gutierrez and Joseph’s final push to persuade him to fund their second proposal. This is the first time Marsh has been to the park.

“This is nothing. You should see this place on Saturday morning,” Gutierrez remarks. “Rivals come to play basketball.” The city sponsors other regular basketball games for youth during the week, one at the Salvation Army on Fridays and another at the Fecteau-Leary school.

Marsh, Moberger and Murray banter with the basketball players. There is some disagreement over whether the hoops are high enough. The kids say no; the adults are confident they are NBA regulation height. Next, they examine the tennis court and the rusted chain link mesh peeling away from the corner fence pole.

Mr. Moberger makes his best guess on how much it would cost to replace. He’s worked for the OECD for 30 years.  A graduate of Colby College and the Radcliffe Landscape Design Institute, he is responsible for all community facility projects including park restoration, streetscapes, traffic islands, tree planting programs and historic and structural building projects. Mr. Murray is a Community Facilities Specialist. Mr. Marsh is the OECD’s director.

Finally, Marsh quietly says he’ll find some money in budget. Later, he’ll recommend $15K to resurface the tennis court and reline it as a multi-use surface, using what’s left over to fix as much of the fence as possible. He also suggests that Joseph and Gutierrez find matching grants to complete the work. The play structure will have to wait.

“I’ll play you for the rest of it,” Gutierrez jokes. “I’ll bring it. I was the tallest kid on the team in middle school.”

Marsh looks at me in disbelief. “Can you believe he’s never heard of Horse or Pig?”

Read the previous installment of this series, Henry Avenue Park.

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From left to right, John Moberger, Michael Murray, Antonio Gutierrez and Wendy Joseph

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