The Craig Street Boys and Girls Club is building its own playground rather than send its children down the street to Jerry Burrell Park.
The Hamilton Hill neighborhood park, only a short walk away, has a reputation for violence and drug deals. There are occasionally fights, and a man was shot dead there in broad daylight last spring.
So rather than walk across the Hill to the park, many Hamilton Hill children’s groups now have their own playground, where their members can play on fenced-in private property that can be supervised easily by adults working at the agency. Girls Inc. took the most extreme approach. It opened a playground in 1992 and runs it like a tiny park, open to the public for free 24 hours a day.
“There wasn’t a safe outdoor play space in this corner of Hamilton Hill,” Girls Inc. Chief Executive Officer and President Teri Bordenave said. “We were thinking in terms of the neighborhood. This is a much closer access point to them.”
Now the Craig Street Boys and Girls Club will duplicate that on the other side of the Hill.
“Neighbors seem to want somewhere adults can bring kids,” clubs Director Thomas Ciancetta said.
Although adults could just as easily walk to Jerry Burrell Park, Ciancetta said the club playground would be more secure.
“It is private property. We certainly can control it,” he said. “Our idea is to properly light it. Even in the evening, there will be a line of sight. And we’ll probably surround it with some nice fencing. Jerry Burrell Park has no fencing whatsoever.”
The club is considering a security camera as well, he said.
The playground also beats Jerry Burrell Park in terms of supervision, he said.
“We can’t supervise Jerry Burrell Park from here. It’s much more expensive when you take the kids out of our facility,” Ciancetta said.
And he’s fairly certain that the club playground will be cleaner than Burrell. “When our kids used the basketball court, they’d have to take a broom and dustpan to sweep up the glass,” he said.
The club playground will have a “playcourt” with portable basketball hoops, so that the surface could be used for other sports as well.
“Some people did not want to see kids play basketball 24 hours a day,” Ciancetta said.
Swings, slides and other amenities are being considered, but no decisions have been made yet.
The Girls Inc. playground is handicapped-accessible. Children who can lift themselves out of their wheelchairs can enter the play structure or maneuver onto a special swing that can be moved with arm levers.
However, the wheelchair-swing has been broken repeatedly by late-night visitors, Bordenave said.
“It’s open all hours. Kids keep breaking that one swing, and of course it’s expensive to replace, so right now we’re down to one swing,” she said.
That’s the only problem Girls Inc. has encountered in 15 years of running the playground.
“It gets a lot of use,” Bordenave said. “We have picnic tables so families come here. We have some men come who are obviously body-builders.”
The men work out by using the monkey bars, she said.
The agency does have to pick up litter, but nothing like what’s found at Jerry Burrell Park.
“We have not found any drug paraphernalia,” Bordenave said.
Three summers ago, Carver Community Center joined the trend, but unlike Girls Inc., the Carver playground is fenced off and locked. Only children in the Carver Early Childhood Education Center can play there.
Director A.C. “Budd” Mazurek said it’s been a great success.
“It’s secured. The gates are locked. We’ve never had a lick of trouble with anyone trying to get in and vandalize or destroy it,” he said.
Jerry Burrell Park was never even considered as an alternative to building a playground.
“It’s too far away for us to walk 3-, 4-, 5-year-olds,” he said. “Plus I don’t consider it a very safe venue. There’s things going on we don’t want our kids exposed to.”
City Councilman and Health & Recreation Committee Chairman Joseph Allen said the criticism about Jerry Burrell Park is all too true.
“There’s been a lot of problems at Jerry Burrell Park with regard to violence and just general lawlessness. People smoking marijuana, people smoking crack,” he said. “In my opinion, in the summertime particularly, the police need to patrol there more often. That would discourage people from acting crazy or doing crazy things.”
But he said that even if the city managed to keep criminals away from the park at all times, it wouldn’t be enough.
“There’s not much there. We’ve got to do a better job of providing recreation for the younger children,” Allen said.
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