A $640,000 proposal to renovate and add an ice rink to the 6-acre Casey Park in Watertown is bringing praise from parents and coaches, but is also invoking harsh criticism from some neighbors who say the park already draws a rowdy late-night crowd.
The park, which sits on Watertown Street near the Newton border, is one of the busiest recreational facilities in town, with a mix of offerings that includes tennis and basketball courts, fields for baseball and soccer, and a playground and swings for younger kids, said Peter Centola, director of the Recreation Department.
At a public forum discussing the plans for Casey Park on Tuesday night, many Watertown residents applauded the town for introducing an ice skating rink.
“I think there’s a need for it — right now, I have to take my kids to Newton” for ice-related activities, resident Lauren Hegarty-Tattrie said at the meeting. “We’re extremely excited for this.”
However, several neighbors of the park said more foot traffic would exacerbate the problem of noisy groups of teenagers who linger after the lights are shut off.
“I’ve lived there for 35 years, and I know how late people stay,” said Pat Farrell, 66. “I know the sound. Every weekend night, they play basketball, and that’s all you hear until 11 p.m. at night.”
Centola said that although the town could look into adding more trash bins and intensifying supervision by park rangers and summer counselors, the actions of troublesome individuals could only be self-monitored by community members, and controlled by police in late-night situations.
Town officials have been looking to update the eastern side of the park, which houses three tennis courts and a basketball court, by renovating two of the tennis courts, replacing the other court with an ice rink, and installing a new, eco-friendly lighting system.
“The ice surface will set Casey Park apart,” Centola said, noting that there has been demand for the rink. “Everybody’s really excited about it, and it will be the first of its kind in Watertown.”
The town also plans to beautify the landscaping; add picnic benches, a flag pole, parking spaces, and a bike rack; install a new fence; and make the facility more handicapped-accessible, Centola said.
“Our goal is to get the facilities up to speed and make the town proud, and get the kids off the street and busy,” he said.
The renovation proposal comes after the town updated the baseball field on the west side of the park two years ago to accommodate youth leagues using the park.
After presenting the proposal to the Town Council last month, Centola said, his department is adjusting the project to also include improvements to a baseball field at the park, adding a backstop, five-tier bleacher stands, two dugouts with protective fencing, and a batting tunnel.
“Combining both projects will save the town money and make it more efficient, since we only have to come out with one bid,” Centola said, noting that plans call for the project to be funded by about $550,000 in bonds and $90,000 that has been earmarked by town officials from the budget.
The town plans to put the project out to bid by the end of this month, and start construction by March. The baseball field’s upgrades are slated to be completed in April, in time for the start of the season, and the other renovations and ice rink should be done by July, Centola said.
At last week’s public forum, Kellie Connelly, 33, said even though the park shuts off the lights around 10 p.m., she hears people dawdling during the weekends.
“You can still hear 16-year-olds shooting basketball on Saturday night because they only need enough light from the street lamps,” she said.
“They’ll start a pickup game, and then — we’ve all seen it — they’ll start coming down with beer bottles and tossing them. I call the police numerous times, but then no one cleans it up.”
Connelly also suggested that the town should build permanent bathroom facilities at the park, since, she said, many Little League players tend to relieve themselves in the park. Centola agreed with her suggestion, and said he would look into it for future projects.
Other residents worried that since the new ice rink would lack a lockable gate, some people might break in and ruin the surface.
“It used to happen at Casey Park when I was growing up here, and we’d go to use it and it would be all choppy — it was just awful,” said Marilyn Petitto Devaney, a member of the Governor’s Council and a former Town Council member. “I really hope they do something so that doesn’t happen now.”
Centola said the town will pay particular attention to the park in the months after the upgrade.
“Like any new facility, we will have to monitor it and see what the flaws are, especially during the first year,” Centola said. “Aesthetically, this park will be beautiful. It might be noisier, but it will also help with your property values.”
Alice Lederman, 79, stood up at the meeting to defend the park’s renovations.
“I’ve been a resident here all my life — I live across the street and always brag about how this park has no problems or trouble,” she said. “This is what kids want today. They want hockey, and I’m the first to say that we should give it to them.”Jaclyn reiss can be reached at email@example.com.