Back in the day, Brockton’s James Edgar Park was the hub of its neighborhood, as most city parks were, a shady mecca for baseball, horse shoe and bocce games, and soaring playground swings.
It’s a different story today in the big, leafy square bordered by Brook, Dover, South Fuller, and Winthrop streets, an area that is now littered with used hypodermic needles and is more a magnet for thugs and drug transactions than friendly games with a ball.
Few people rest on its wooden benches, most of them tagged with gangland insignia, and the facilities often go unused because young people are afraid to play there, parents say. Fights draw police to the park daily, officials say, and American Legion league ball players are now used to arriving early for their weekend games so they can rid the field of needles and litter.
Ward 2 City Councilor Thomas Monahan, who is also a park commissioner, says he’s fed up with the situation at the park and wants something done.
“I wasn’t aware of all this until it was brought to my attention,’’ Monahan said in a phone interview last week. “But now we are putting people on notice. We are watching.”
As a preliminary strike against violence and illegal drug activity in the park, officials have already removed the hoops from the park’s basketball court, where trouble seemed to brew, as they complete an application for state funds to rehab the park as a whole. (Some residents contend removing the hoops is not fair to those who don’t make trouble, but Monahan said ridding public spaces like James Edgar Park of “a certain element” is a step-by-step process.)
City officials will hold a public meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Dr. William Arnone Community Elementary School auditorium at 135 Belmont St. to solicit input from residents and discuss plans for the park.
The gathering is the last required forum before the Brockton Redevelopment Authority can submit an application to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs for a Parkland and Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant of up to $400,000.
The grant program is highly competitive, so Brockton officials are keeping their fingers crossed that the money will be available to not only rehab the facilities but also to set up more intensive regular police patrols to keep the “riffraff” out, Monahan said. That will involve regular visits from drug- and gun-sniffing dogs, he said.
“We’ve talked to the police, and they will have directed patrols down here at all different times,’’ he said.
Officials held a community meeting at the park in early June where they served pizza and talked over ideas, Monahan said. Some residents pitched in for a cleanup, as well.
Brockton Parks and Recreation Commissioner Timothy Carpenter said he has high hopes for the stately park, where a young Rocky Marciano would walk over to play when he was a boy living on Dover Street. Named for a Scottish émigré and philanthropist who, in 1890, was the nation’s first department store Santa, the park is also the site of memorials to several high-profile and much-beloved late residents, including Marciano and World War II veterans. “We have a terrific opportunity here,’’ Carpenter said.
As part of the rehab plan, a forgotten tennis court that had been taken over by a group of residents who meet after work for regular volleyball games will be converted into a structured volleyball facility, Carpenter said.
“The demand for tennis in that neighborhood is not big, so part of the grant would go to revitalize that area for a variation of indoor volleyball,’’ he said. “It’s a great group of people.”
Because the baseball field draws such large crowds, the grant would also pay to turn the old basketball courts into parking, create new courts out of the dilapidated bocce and horse shoe pits, renovate the playground, and perform a general spruce-up.
If Brockton gets the funding, it is reimbursable, meaning the city has to find the money and spend it before being paid back, Carpenter said. That might present a challenge in an era in which local governments are struggling. There is also a one-year time limit to get the work done, he said, so bids would have to go out fast after word was received.
But first there is work to do, Carpenter and others said, as the deadline to submit the grant application is Saturday.
Volunteers have been flooding surrounding neighborhoods with fliers in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole so all residents are made aware of the Tuesday meeting, Monahan said. James Edgar Park was once beautiful, and safe, he and others say, and it can be again.
“We are going door-to-door,’’ said Monahan. “We want to get everyone involved.”