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New hopes for Ramsay Park in Roxbury after $2.4 million face lift

Children from Shelburne Summer Camp went high for a spin on a rotating rope sphere at the renovated Ramsay Park.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

On Friday morning, beaming children ran, yelled, and soaked their T-shirts in a water feature at Roxbury’s Ramsay Park. Giggling moppets packed themselves in twos, threes, and fours onto wide, disc-shaped swings and spun on tiny seats shaped like flowers.

Their cheerful, innocent antics could hardly be more different from the activities for which the park has long been known. For decades, people have openly sold and used drugs in the park, neighborhood residents and workers said, and drank beers and small bottles of liquor that they left to litter areas intended for play.

In 2004, 23-year-old basketball coach William “Biggie” Gaines was fatally shot here in front of his players. In March 2012, police found a 60-year-old man stabbed in the neck here.

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After a $2.4 million renovation that was driven by local activism, city officials and neighbors hope the 5.5-acre park on Washington Street near Melnea Cass Boulevard will continue to attract children and families rather than trouble.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in an interview Friday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the park that keeping it busy with appropriate activities will drive away those who would use the space to get intoxicated or engage in criminal acts.

Walsh said the city has made a long-term commitment to the safety and usability of the park, and said police and other city workers will monitor it for criminal activity and cleanliness.

“We still have to come in and make sure that we don’t see needles here and we don’t see people drinking here,” he said. “So we’re going to be keeping an eye on that. . . . This investment isn’t just for today; it’s for tomorrow, as well.”

Jamere Lofton, 11, rested high above a swing railing. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Walsh pledged to rebuild the park in his 2016 State of the City address, saying young people had approached him the previous summer and asked for his help.

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“They told me what it was like to grow up right next door to a park that was too unsafe to use, and how they’ve been working to fix that,” Walsh said, according to his prepared remarks.

Sarah O’Connor, who coordinates the teen program at nearby St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, said the group that approached Walsh back in 2015 included about 10 teenagers from the neighborhood who had spent that summer beautifying the park and organizing events there, despite its rough conditions.

“This place was always full of needles and trash, like overflowing trash cans and trash everywhere,” she said.

They asked the mayor to make the park as beautiful as some just blocks away in the South End, she said, “so he moved it up to the top of the list of renovations, and now here we are.”

The teens who brought the park to Walsh’s attention have gone on to college and were unable to attend Friday’s ceremony, she said.

She hopes young people from the neighborhood will have the opportunity to enjoy Ramsay Park for years to come, she said, and hopes its improvement is not a harbinger of gentrification.

“We’re really hoping that this is an investment in the lives of young people who live here now, and not foreshadowing of . . . massively displacing the young people who fought for their community to be better,” she said.

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Formerly known as Derby Park, the recreation area was renamed for US Air Force Captain David Leroy Ramsay, a fighter pilot who was born and raised in Roxbury and attended English High School before going on to West Point.

Ramsay was killed in action in Vietnam in 1970 and received the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Meritorious Service Medal, and other honors. Walsh and Giselle Sterling, the city’s commissioner of veterans’ services, paid tribute to Ramsay’s sacrifice at Friday’s ceremony.

For the children present, though, the focus was on play.

Ellora Hankwitz, 7, of Roxbury, said her favorite part of the park was the disc-shaped swings, and she plans to ask her mother for permission to hold a tea party there.

The new play equipment is fun, she said, but it also contains some hazards.

“The spinny seats got my brother dizzy,” Ellora said, “and he almost threw up.”

Because of inaccurate information given to the Globe, an earlier version of this story erroneously said Ramsay had received the Medal of Honor.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.