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Playgrounds, spray parks get extra boost

Children in five area communities will have new places to play and stay cool in the summer as a result of a new infusion of state dollars.

Franklin, Marlborough, Newton, Waltham, and Watertown were each recently awarded grants under a one-time state program to help cities build or renovate public playgrounds and spray parks.

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“We’re thrilled,” Waltham Mayor Jeannette A. McCarthy said of the $200,000 her community will receive; it will go to construct a new playground and make other improvements at the Pond End Tot Lot on Winter Street.

“This is a nice little neighborhood park that abuts a forested area and the neighbors want to keep it that way . . . but with a few more amenities and open space,” she said, a goal that the grant will help realize.

Through its Our Common Backyards program, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is committing up to $200,000 for playground and spray park projects in each of the state’s 54 cities. All but two of the cities were awarded funds through an application process, according to Krista Selmi, an agency spokeswoman.

Watertown and Franklin refer to themselves as towns, but qualified for the grant program because the state considers them cities based on their forms of government.

The grants are for playgrounds and spray parks, but other improvements are allowed if there is money remaining. The cities are asked to provide a $50,000 match, but the state is flexible with that requirement, Selmi said. All projects must be completed by the end of this year.

“As a former mayor, I’ve seen how important parks and playgrounds are to local communities,” said Rick Sullivan, secretary of energy and environmental affairs, in a statement on the program. “This will provide cities with the resources to improve access to outdoor recreation in urban neighborhoods, where open space can be hard to find.”

The equipment at Pond End Tot Lot is outmoded and limited, according to Sandi Tomasello, Waltham’s recreation director. She said the improvements, which are also being funded with $240,000 from the city, was a good fit for the grant because the playground primarily serves neighborhood families.

“We have had this on the drawing boards to be done, but the grant came along at a great time to put us on a fast track,” she said.

Unlike the existing tot lot, the new playground will be for children of all ages. The improvements will include new benches, trees, and picnic tables.

Watertown was awarded $200,000 to help fund an overall $491,000 project to construct a new playground at 552 Main St., behind the police station.

The project fulfills a promise by officials to replace a playground that made way for the new police station, which opened in 2010. The old playground had served the former Brown School and a private school that later occupied the same building, which was also demolished for the station project, according to Peter Centola, Watertown’s recreation director.

The new facility will include a new multipurpose hard court for basketball and other games; a gazebo; an area for quiet contemplation; and new trees and shrubs.

Centola said Watertown had planned to carry out the project on its own, but will now be able to do it with state money. Work began several weeks ago.

“It’s a great match,” Centola said of placing a playground behind the police station. In addition to providing a safe environment, he said, the location would offer police officers a chance to interact with young people either through programs or informally.

Newton will get $200,000 for an overall $250,000 project to build a new play structure that will replace one at Emerson Playground on Pettee Street in Newton Upper Falls. The plans also include new trees, picnic tables, benches, and a walkway.

Bob DeRubeis, the city’s parks and recreation commissioner, said the playground is well used by residents of all ages. The site includes a small baseball diamond and is next to a community center that houses preschool and after-school programs, making it a convenient location for families. Seniors also attend programs in the center and like to stroll in the park.

“We were ecstatic to get it,” DeRubeis said of the grant. “This was a neighborhood looking for a new playground. It’s in tough shape — it’s deteriorated. They had started some work of their own on fund-raising, so to have this come to them, they couldn’t be happier.”

Marlborough’s $200,000 grant will help fund a $611,000 project to build a new playground to replace the existing playground at Stevens Park, as well as to add trees, benches, picnic tables, a water bubbler, a pavilion, and fencing. The centrally located park sits atop Sligo Hill, the highest point in the city.

“This will help us put a new face on a lovely old park that gets a lot of use,” said Priscilla Ryder, the city’s conservation officer.

She said the project “would have happened three or four years down the road. This will help us move it forward.”

Franklin will use its $172,300 grant, along with $50,000 of its own money, to add a spray area to Fletcher Field, a downtown park that has ball fields, a playground, and a basketball court.

Town Manager Jeff Nutting said the grant will allow Franklin to improve a recreational area that is easily accessible to people from less-affluent neighborhoods.

The spray park will be a welcome attraction, he said, including for families that come from all across Franklin to make use of the ball fields.

“So if mom or dad have their son or daughter playing in Little League, and junior wants to run around in the spray park, that makes a lot of sense,” he said.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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