hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

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February 7, 2013

Safe place for inner-city kids

Neighbors, volunteers will rebuild Portland Street playground

An inner-city playground that deteriorated over the years and is often a dumping ground for furniture left by the neighborhood’s transient residents is being eyed for a total makeover.

Team Haverhill, the volunteer group that has been behind several community art and cultural projects, said one of its projects for 2013 and 2014 is to renovate the Portland Street playground, in partnership with the city and the neighborhood.

“It’s an area that is in need of attention,” said Recreation Department head Vincent Ouellette. “Over the years, numerous groups have adopted it and have cleaned it. From time to time people moving out of the neighborhood dump furniture and other items in the playground. There have been periodic cleanups, but it has become difficult to maintain the park.”

Located on the section of Portland Street that is between 4th and 5th avenues, the playground was the site of a public school until the building was demolished decades ago. In the mid- to late 1990s, the city learned the basketball court created on the site was built over buried tree stumps. The court was sinking and needed to be replaced.

Alice Mann, president of Team Haverhill, said the volunteer organization wants to lead the effort to rebuild the playground and has recruited the very people who they expect will use it.

“For almost a year, we’ve been talking with neighbors and others with family connections to that neighborhood,” Mann said. “Volunteers will help to renovate this important recreation area in 2013 and 2014. We will match the city’s financial investment dollar-for-dollar, and provide volunteer leadership for the project.”

Gary Ortiz, who works for the city’s Water Department, reached out to residents in the neighborhood to enlist their help. He stumbled across the playground in 2010, when Mayor James Fiorentini asked him to talk to neighbors in the nearby Union Street area after complaints about noise late at night at McMurrer Park.

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