BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
---- — NEWBURYPORT -- Friends of the Brown School have secured 1,188 signatures on a petition that was due yesterday, enough to make it possible that voters will see a non-binding referendum on the Nov. 5 election ballot.
Adherents want to ensure that there will be open space preserved after the Brown School is closed in June.
City Clerk Richard Jones said they had to 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.
Lisa Bleicken, a key organizer in the drive, yesterday said, “We’re very pleased that we obtained our goal of signatures. It was a great experience for us, with volunteers helping from all parts of the city.”
Jones said, “It will take time to go through the petitions and check the signatures. We’ll probably have an answer next week regarding the validity of the names and signatures.”
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, 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,” Amy King, a member of the Friends, said last week.
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.”