July 9, 2017

Editorial: Ensuring safe play should be priority for Worcester leaders

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Carol McDonald / For Worcester Sun

Reasonable folks expect a little wear and tear, but city parks shouldn't be in such disrepair as to invite serious injuries.

We’re used to the thump-thump of basketballs in summer. If there’s a hoop to aim at, kids all over the city will shoot layups and jump shots to sharpen skills and kill some free time.

No one would have expected — and no one should accept — the sound heard by a Worcester teenager at Holland Rink Playground on June 30.

Kadisha Evans had been practicing free throws at the little-known city park on Lincoln Street when the backboard and its heavy steel support structure crashed to the pavement.

“It was so scary,” she told the Telegram & Gazette. “What if it fell on me? It was really, really loud, to the point I didn’t even know what was going on.”

The city should count its lucky stars the structure didn’t fall on her — and should react as decisively as if it had.

The lesson from an atrocious near-miss such as that is to make sure it can’t happen again. Officials need to conduct an emergency round of inspections at other city parks and playgrounds, paying particular attention to older equipment that might be harboring serious hazards.

The city also ought to investigate how a basketball fixture in one of its five dozen parks could have been so overlooked that it was about to fall apart. It took maybe 10 innocent hits from a basketball to finish it off that Friday.

As a “playground,” Holland Rink Playground is a has-been. Cut off from Green Hill Park by the construction of Interstate 290 decades ago, the spot — across busy Lincoln Street from Hanover Insurance — is little noticed or used these days. There is no playground as such. It has a sorry basketball court with a cracked playing surface and weak fence, plus a ball field with rotting stands. Numerous trees, a nice stretch of grass and a few houses nearby impart some life to the silence.

Carol McDonald / For Worcester Sun

The lone standing basketball hoop at the mostly barren — and unattended to — Holland Rink Playground (which features neither a rink nor a playground).

But Holland Rink still ranks as a city park, and so there should be an assumption of safety when residents use it. Anything less is unacceptable.

Not every corner of the city is perfect and pretty, nor every park a showcase of Worcester’s considerable and welcome push to improve its recreational spaces. But if the gate’s open for children to play, safety is the number-one consideration. That always has been, and always will be, what matters most. As the city of course knows, and residents must insist on, this takes more than lip service but wrenches, elbow grease, allocations and an abundance of caution.

There is hope for Holland Rink Playground in the sense that it has an approved master plan. But the master plan’s on paper.

In real life, the park currently is a conglomeration of rust, neglect, empty field, and a one-hoop basketball court designed to hold four.

The basketball structure that fell down has been removed. It had stood on the Lincoln Street side of the court, next to the one that remains, which appears to be weathered but sound. The master plan, once it’s funded eventually, calls for relocation of the basketball court, so it’s uncertain whether the fallen hoop will be replaced, city spokesman John Hill told the T&G.

The priority, though, clearly, is proper maintenance of the facilities the city does provide. This is not a time to tout successes and plans, but to take tools and critical assessments to parks and playgrounds so that the public’s trust is merited and potential tragedies prevented.

Similarly, the city should urgently investigate the adequacy of signage and lifeguard coverage at Lake Park on Lake Quinsigamond. Ishe Concepcion Lanoy, a 17-year-old North High School student — reportedly a poor swimmer in a lake known for some sudden drop-offs close to shore — drowned July 2, causing widespread heartbreak and consternation.

We need to do all we can to prevent such awful occurrences. When they do happen, we must learn and make appropriate changes.

From enjoying a sport to managing a city, thinking ahead is key.

Kadisha, 16, a varsity basketball player at Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public School, and her father, Carl Evans — who had accompanied her to the park and was waiting in the car — did the right thing. They took pictures after the backboard and support structure fell down, and on Wednesday, according to the T&G story, they went to City Hall to notify officials about the incident and about the overall condition of the park.

That’s not the kind of visit the city enjoys. But the proverbial ball is in their court. Officials should listen to that loud, heavy hoop crash as if they heard it themselves.

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