, Newburyport, MA

August 20, 2013

Our view: Two institutions worth protecting

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Newburyporters have a long history of banding together to protect local institutions. Two items along these lines came into the headlines this past week, and are worthy of consideration.

The first is one of Newburyport’s oldest landmarks, Frog Pond. The pond is the centerpiece of Bartlet Mall, the city’s central promenade on High Street. It’s suffering from the long-term effects of “living” in an urban setting.

Though its steep sides and isolated location lead some newcomers to think it is manmade, it is in fact a natural pond, formed by glaciers millennia ago that created a deep gouge in the earth that Mother Nature filled with fresh water. It’s an anomaly on our landscape. Unlike the vast majority of our ponds and lakes, there are no streams leading into it or out of it. The pond’s unique siting, and its inability to naturally “flush” itself, makes it vulnerable to our chemical-laden world.

For decades, Newburyport has tried to keep the pond vibrant and hospitable to frogs and fish, and to control the unhealthy chemical content in the water. There’s been successes over the years, but in recent times it’s been a losing battle. One of the most recent signs of that was Yankee Homecoming Committee’s decision to not hold the popular Canoe Tilt event in the pond, due to the poor water quality.

Hats off to the volunteers on the Bartlet Mall Commission and city employees such as Lise Reid, who have been trying for months to find a solution. One solution has presented itself, though it may be costly — a treatment proposed by Amesbury-based Higgins Environmental Associates would remove the harmful levels of phosphorus and return the pond to a more natural state. Estimated cost is $60,000 for the initial treatment, plus a need for regular maintenance. There are also other cleaning methods available.

Frog Pond’s health is worth protecting. As the city considers the financial impact, this seems like a good opportunity for Newburyporters to step up and help ensure the pond is cleaned and remains so for future generations. Should funding become the key issue, we feel confident that Newburyport businesses, institutions and citizens would be willing to donate to the cause.

There’s a similar situation playing out on State Street, where another Newburyport institution is struggling to keep apace against the march of progress. The Screening Room, our region’s only independent arts cinema, is trying to raise $60,000 to afford the new digital devices that all movie theaters must have in order to show movies in the near future.

Major studios are switching over to digital projection systems, a move that has left small independent theaters across the nation with an enormous cost-of-business to absorb. For many businesses, the cost is simply too much.

As theater co-owner Andrew Mungo told the News, “The 35mm film is now the voice of the past. We must go digital or fade into that past.”

Mungo and his business partner Nancy Langsam have decided to try to move forward, by asking people to donate to their business. In return, patrons get “in kind” gifts — popcorn, movie tickets, etc. They also plan to use a little new technology, in the form of a “kickstarter” campaign, to boost their revenues. The campaign will run from Sept. 6 to Oct. 6.

Over the years the Screening Room has been a welcoming home for offbeat films. It gives downtown Newburyport another venue of entertainment, and it fits in perfectly with something Newburyporters take pride in — downtown filled with independent businesses.

We hope that the Screening Room makes the jump into the digital era.