A $640,000 proposal to renovate and add an ice rink to the six-acre Casey Park in Watertown this year is bringing praise from parents and coaches, but is also invoking harsh criticism from neighbors who say the park already brings a rowdy late-night crowd.
The park, which sits on a six-acre lot on Watertown Street near the Newton border, is one of the most used parks in the town because it offers a variety of courts and fields for tennis, basketball, baseball, and soccer, as well as a playground and swings for younger kids, said Peter Centola, director of the parks department.
At a public forum discussing the project on Jan. 8, many Watertown residents applauded the city for introducing an ice skating rink.
“I think there’s a need for it – right now, I have to take my kids to Newton” for ice-related activities, said Lauren Hegarty-Tattrie, 43, at the meeting. “We’re extremely excited for this.”
However, several residents whose properties abut the park said that more foot traffic in the park would exacerbate noisy groups of teenagers who linger in the park after the lights are shut off.
“I’ve lived there for 35 years, and I know how late people stay,” said Pat Farrell, 66. “I know the sound. Every weekend night, they play basketball, and that’s all you hear until 11 p.m. at night.”
Centola said that although the town could look into adding more trash bins and intensifying supervision from park rangers and summer counselors, the actions of troublesome individuals could only be self-monitored by community members, and controlled by police in late-night situations.
Town officials have been looking to update the eastern side of the park, which houses three tennis courts and a basketball court, by renovating two of the tennis courts, replacing the other tennis court with an ice rink, and installing a new eco-friendly lighting system.
"The ice surface will set Casey Park apart," Centola said, noting that there has been demand for the rink. "Everybody's really excited about it, and it will be the first of its kind in Watertown.”
The town also plans to beautify the landscaping; add picnic benches, a flag pole, parking spaces and a bike rack; and make the park more handicap accessible, in addition to building a new fence, Centola said.
“Our goal is to get the facilities up to speed and make the town proud, and get the kids off the street and busy,” Centola said.
The renovation proposal comes after the town updated the baseball field on the west side of the park two years ago to accommodate youth leagues using the park.
After presenting the proposal to Town Council in December, Centola said the project will now also include improvements to the baseball field side of the park, adding a backstop, five-tier bleacher stands, two dugouts with protective fencing, and a batting tunnel.
“Combining both projects will save the town money and make it more efficient, since we only have to come out with one bid,” Centola said, noting that the project is estimated to cost about $550,000 in town bonds and $90,000 in tax money earmarked by town officials. The town plans to put the project out to bid by the end of January, and start construction by March. The baseball field’s upgrades are slated to be completed in April, which is when the sport starts up again, and the other renovations and ice rink should be done by July, Centola said.
At the public forum, Kellie Connelly, 33, said even though the park shuts off the lights around 10 p.m., she hears people dawdling during the weekends.
“You can still hear 16-year-olds shooting basketball on Saturday night because they only need enough light from the street lamps,” she said. “They’ll start a pickup game, and then - we’ve all seen it - they’ll start coming down with beer bottles and tossing them. I call the police numerous times, but then no one cleans it up.”
Connelly also suggested that the town should build permanent bathroom facilities at the park – which Centola agreed with and said he would look into for future projects – since she said many Little League players tend to relieve themselves openly in the park.
Other residents worried that since the new ice rink would lack a lockable gate, some people might break in and ruin the liquefied ice while it hardened in the winter.
“It used to happen at Casey Park when I was growing up here, and we’d go to use it and it would be all choppy – it was just awful,” said Marilyn Petitto Devaney. “I really hope they do something so that doesn’t happen now.”
Centola said the town will be paying particular attention to the park in the months after the upgrade.
“Like any new facility, we will have to monitor it and see what the flaws are, especially during the first year,” Centola said. “Aesthetically, this park will be beautiful. It might be noisier, but it will also help with your property values.”
Alice Lederman, 79, stood up at the meeting to defend the park’s renovations.
“I’ve been a resident here all my life – I live across the street and always brag about how this park has no problems or trouble,” she said. “This is what kids want today. They want hockey, and I’m the first to say that we should give it to them.”
Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org