BY JENNIFER SOLIS
---- — WEST NEWBURY — Construction on long awaited — and somewhat controversial — town-owned basketball courts is finally under way. Tom Flaherty of the Park and Recreation Commission reported on Friday that the Public Works Department, in coordination with his commission, has broken ground on the project in an area near Action Cove Playground on Bachelor Street.
Flaherty notes that because Action Cove will remain open during the process, families visiting the popular playground will occasionally be asked to park in the Cammett Field baseball lot and walk over to the playground during the construction period.
“We also ask that there be no parking outside of the gate (at the entrance to the playground) and especially no parking in the street,” Flaherty said.
He hopes the job can be completed this fall, but says it could run into next spring depending on how weather affects the efforts to install the court’s foundation and macadam surface.
Once finished, the basketball court will be available for free public use on a first-come basis, with the town’s youth league activities and programs on the court advertised in advance.
The road to installing the new court was anything but smooth. At the annual Town Meeting in April 2010, voters approved a request brought by a citizen’s petition to construct an outdoor basketball court after Jack Duggan of the Park and Recreation Department announced that the price was cut from $86,010 to $46,000 and that no action would be taken on two other requests to repair baseball infields. The West Newbury Youth League offered to cover the $16,740 costs for those repairs, Duggan had said at the time.
According to Flaherty, the appropriation for the basketball court was supplemented by a $10,000 donation from the youth league, bringing the total cost for the project to $56,000.
However, construction of the new courts has encountered resistance that has delayed the process for several years. Just a few weeks after the Town Meeting in June 2010, the Board of Selectmen received a petition from Bachelor Street residents objecting to the siting of the new courts. The concerns were forwarded to the Park and Recreation Department.
“The board offered to look for another location — if the new place worked for the project,” Flaherty said. To that end, he says, the youth baseball outfield was extensively studied as a possible site.
But the project was halted a second time in 2012 when “the youth baseball group vigorously opposed the site after initially viewing it as acceptable,” said Flaherty.
As recently as March of this year, two residents issued letters of complaint to selectmen regarding the installation on the Bachelor Street site, contending the recreational complex was already too congested and built to capacity. They would have preferred the recreation board find an alternative site, such as behind Page Elementary School or on the Pentucket secondary school campus.