NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 4, 2013

Deadline near on ballot question

Group collecting signatures for non-binding playground referendum

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — 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.

“Our aim is to get a sense from voters if they would like to keep some sort of park/playground on the grounds of the Brown School once it closes,” said Amy King, a member of the Friends.

The following is the message they hope to place on the ballot:

“Upon the sale, lease or removal from service as a public school of any portion of the buildings and grounds of the G. W. Brown Early Elementary School, the City of Newburyport shall dedicate and hold permanently for public park and playground uses under the meaning of Chapter 45 of the Massachusetts General Laws an area of such site that is at least equal in size to the school yard currently located on the southeasterly portion of the site, including the mulched area for play equipment, the basketball court, and the so-called amphitheater.”

The organization’s Web page can be found at www.friendsofbrownschoolpark.org.