, Gloucester, MA

October 2, 2012

Editorial: Burnham's Field grant will need city's long-term followup

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — The word that the city of Gloucester has been awarded a $195,000 grant from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to boost a plan for upgrades to Burnham’s Field is certainly good news, and comes at a nearly ideal time on several counts.

But while moving forward with an overall $340,000 renovation project, fueled by both the DEP grant dollar and a federal Community Development Block Grant, city officials should also assure the field’s downtown neighbors and Gloucester residents as a whole that they will also take the obvious necessary follow-up steps to maintain and monitor the park’s condition in the future, so that it doesn’t lapse once again into its condition of today — or, even worse, where it stood two years ago before a community group at least launched a gardening project that brought focus and a sense of community ownership to at least a corner of the potential downtown gem.

That could mean carving out a Burnham’s Field oversight group under the wing of the city’s Open Space and Recreation Committee, with neighborhood involvement. It could also mean recognizing a community policing or neighborhood watch group, to make sure the improved park doesn’t fall victim to vandals and is safe for nighttime use.

But most of all, it should include a commitment by the city to set aside money within the Department of Public Works budget to protect this extensive and honorable investment in an important downtown facility that can and should, indeed, be a source of community pride. Sadly, it’s been a long time since that’s been the case. While the main softball field at the Burnham’s Street end of the park is home to the Gloucester High girls softball team and local adult softball leagues — and while the newly-renamed Patriots’ Peewee football programs practices and plays its games there — there are still far too many police calls regarding incidents of drunkenness in the park in late afternoon or at night, too many calls regarding drug syringes found in corners of the field and around its edges.

Just last month, for example, a high-profile bust of a reputed high-volume heroin dealer came after police noticed three “known heroin users” hanging around in Burnham’s, and rightly suspected they were awaiting a delivery. That’s not exactly a comforting atmosphere in which kids should be able to play, and people of all ages enjoy a pleasant walk, with or without a family pet in tow.

To the credit of the city and many others, there have been some giant positive steps to improve the field’s environs over the past three years. That includes the crafting of a field improvement plan by the city’s community development project manager, Steven Winslow, who has been working in upgrade plans with an eye toward attracting the funding that is now headed this way. It includes Open Space and Recreation panel member John McElhenny, who lives near the field and thus recognizes its needs from the front lines.

It especially includes people like Burnham’s neighbor Gina Briguglio, who helped launch the community garden project that has spawned 20 garden boxes since 2011 and have already brought greater community use — and like Mike Turner, Kevin Verga and others who have raised enough money to replace the equipment and forge a new spirit for the Patriots’ youth football program, formerly the more sinister-sounding Raiders.

It’s in the wake of those efforts that the DEP grant should not only be effective, but well-timed and well-deserved. And it comes as the city welcomes a new police chief — Leonard Campanello — who has worked extensively with community policing in Saugus and has an opportunity to step up that presence here.

But as all of those positive factors converge, it’s important that the city not view the improvements to Burnham’s as a significant but one-time upgrade, and instead approached it as a long-range investment in community pride.

That should indeed include a maintenance and funding commitment for the future.