, Newburyport, MA

Local News

September 4, 2013

Deadline near on ballot question

Group collecting signatures for non-binding playground referendum

NEWBURYPORT — Activists seeking to gather enough signatures to put a non-binding referendum question on the Nov. 5 ballot have launched a final push to get the minimum number of signatures.

City Clerk Richard Jones said that the group, Friends of the Brown School, must produce 1,056 valid signatures in order to move the matter forward. That figure is based on 8 percent of the city’s 13,207 registered voters.

“At this point we have about 75 percent of the signatures with volunteers actively working to gather the rest,” said Lisa Bleicken, a key organizer in the drive. “We are closing the gap, but we need every signature we can get to succeed.”

Friends spokeswomen say they will be collecting signatures today at the Inn Street Barber Shop on Inn Street and Lively Kids on State Street.

Jones said the petition forms are due by the end of business on Thursday. These are “hard copy” documents, as opposed to online initiatives that numerous organizations employ.

“The key thing to remember is that the petition is non-binding,” Jones said.

City officials this spring removed playground equipment from the Brown School property after inspections showed some units were unsafe. Many parents of Brown School students expressed concern that the thickly settled South End neighborhood would be left without a playground and open space if the equipment were not replaced.

In neighborhood meetings, they said that after the Brown School permanently closes in June, they might be left without open space for child and family activities.

Delivery and installation of new playground equipment for the school is slated for Tuesday, Sept. 10, according to members of the Friends organization.

Meanwhile, Mayor Donna Holaday and other municipal leaders are studying whether the Brown School would be an appropriate structure to be converted into affordable housing.

So several weeks ago, Friends of the Brown School began obtaining names to put a non-binding question on the ballot.

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