Rec Department wants to give kids a place to splash around

by susan on October 5, 2010

Post image for Rec Department wants to give kids a place to splash around

Above: This overgrown lot at South Union School could be the site of Southborough’s newest play area

Southborough may be 25% water, but that doesn’t mean there’s a place for residents to swim. Tonight the Recreation Department will go before Selectmen to float a proposal that would give kids in town if not a place to swim, at least a place to splash around.

Recreation Director Doreen Ferguson will tell Selectmen tonight she wants to build a playground and splash pad on land the town owns at South Union School. “There are no recreation areas on the south side of town,” Ferguson said. There is a playground at Finn School, but non-students are not allowed to use it while school is in session.

Ferguson said the play area would target younger kids – preschool through first or second grade. The splash pad would have fountains installed on a padded surface. The fountains would be on sensors to minimize water waste.

Ferguson estimates the cost of the playground and the splash pad would run about $125K. She hopes to use funds from the Community Preservation Act to help pay for it. Use of CPA funds would need to be approved by voters at town meeting.

When we talked a few weeks ago, Ferguson acknowledged that building the play area at South Union School may be a tough sell. The building is currently occupied by the Recreation and Facilities Departments along with the Arts Council. Selectmen in the past have expressed concern about maintenance costs, and some in town have suggested we sell the building.

But Ferguson sees the play area as an opportunity to revitalize the space. “We’re trying to establish the building as a place for residents and kids to go,” she told the Community Preservation Committee last month. “We want to make it come alive.”

Ferguson told the committee that the Rec Department could use the play area to offer additional programing. “If the Rec Department is allowed to flourish, it could help offset the cost of the building,” she said.

Ferguson said her department has met with neighbors to discuss the idea, and most are supportive, although there are concerns about parking, noise, and traffic.

“The town desperately needs something like this,” neighbor Steve Prior told the CPC. “Especially on our side of town.”

Ferguson said she’s also heard the concern that the splash pad might draw too many visitors from out-of-town.

Northborough and Hudson have town-run splash pads. Ferguson said they both see heavy use.

Ferguson goes before Selectmen tonight at 7:30 pm in the Town House Hearing Room (second floor). The meeting is open to the public.

1 My Two Cents October 5, 2010 at 12:59 PM

I think the idea of a splash pad a playground is a great idea but not sure if the location is the best. The Arts Center/Union School has very limited parking and is not the most accessible place to reach in town. How about an alternative location of the Central Street playground? This playground could use some freshening up and the addition of a splash pad/playground would be great in the warmer months. It is a nice location with good access and parking. It can be used anytime during the daytime and doesn’t have the restrictions of the school playgrounds. It also appears that the Central Street playground is not used as much during the summer months. Just a thought.

2 tessa stephens October 5, 2010 at 2:07 PM

I thnk having something for the children on the South Side of town would be amazing. Wnen my children were small it was a long hike to the tot lot and later the Central Streeet playground. The Finn playground is nice, but not accessible during the school day: there was nothing worse than having to explain to a toddler that the playground down the street from your house is off limits!

3 Kelly Roney October 6, 2010 at 12:47 AM

How about passive recreation in the reservoirs? They are only backup drinking water, don’t conform to current standards, and are hardly ever used.

4 Al Hamilton October 6, 2010 at 10:35 AM

I work near the splash park in Hudson and it is actively used in the summer months.

At the risk of being a wet blanket though, we need to understand not only the capital costs but also the maintenance and operating costs. I assume this type of facility requires filters, chlorination, cleaning similar to what a pool requires. Will this facility need an attendant? What will it cost to insure?

We have made the mistake in the past of focusing only on the acquisition costs and not thinking about the sums we will need to come up with every year to take care of the asset and operate it.

I certainly agree that the South side of town is short on recreation assets but before we make a decision we need to fully consider the operating costs as well as capital costs.

5 John Kendall October 6, 2010 at 4:43 PM

I agree with you on this Al. I am also a bit inline with 2 cents…..I’m all for a splash park, but the Arts Center property really isn’t that great of an area by design (or lack thereof). Something on the south side would be nice, but find the right spot.

6 HelenL October 6, 2010 at 12:53 PM

Though it would be nice to have the splash park, we’re the ONLY town around without any town beach facilities… ironic? Our older kids have nowhere to go swimming locally (unless you count “Bare___ Bay”/The Rope” or whatever it’s current name is!). We also don’t have any right to use other town’s beaches. The MWRA doesn’t use the Sudbury reservoirs, why shouldn’t we get some use out of it? A couple of porta-potties, gravel parking lot, and a lifeguard,… I know there’s much more to it than that, but I really do love the fact that this is actually being discussed!. Not all of us consider the Cape to be our “town beach”!

7 southie swimmer October 7, 2010 at 4:30 PM

Where/what is “Bare___ Bay”/The Rope” ??

8 S'Boro Resident October 6, 2010 at 1:21 PM

I like it. Very hard to have Finn playground off limits during school hours and other playgrounds are a little far for a quick trip for those of us on the south side of town.

9 Atwood Resident October 6, 2010 at 7:08 PM

Ferguson did not talk to all resident. Only to supportive one.

Do not need playground. Atwood street has enough traffic and parking problem any time there is church service or Finn school meeting.
What about extending playground on Central Street?

10 Tessa October 6, 2010 at 8:10 PM

The whole discussion is about a playground on the SOUTH side of town. I’m sure there must be somewhere children can play without inconvienencing everyone or having to cross route 9

11 Atwood Resident October 7, 2010 at 9:01 AM

If town can’t leave without playground on South side then they should negotiate with EMC. EMC is developing their parcel now and can do something similar to Hopkinton playground (EMC Park). EMC has a big parcel and I’m sure EMC can find cul-de-sac spot for kids to please town.

12 John Kendall October 7, 2010 at 10:56 AM

As I was driving home from the grocery store today, I drove by the Triangle and thought “what a nice place for a splash pad”. There’s room there, the town installed water on the site earlier this year, electricity is close by, and there is room to park on Cordaville Road.

13 Joan Provencal October 13, 2010 at 4:24 PM

Has any considered the idea of a ‘natural playground’? The idea behind this concept is using natural materials – wood, stone, sand, plants – to create a playground for kids rather than having a metal structure built. One would use as much on-site material as possible. I think it is more cost effective, at least if you believe what Natural Playgrounds has to say (, and I like the ‘green’ aspect.

14 Deb Moore October 13, 2010 at 8:21 PM

The parks we visit in Florida with relatives down there are like this, or half-and-half. They’re a lot of fun. I admit I’ve been leery of splash pads since a few summers ago when there were incidents of insufficiently-disinfected water in a few of them, though I do realize that’s a small incident rate.

15 Pat Q October 14, 2010 at 8:26 AM

Just checked out the website referenced above…..the natural playgrounds are quite beautiful! Looks like the more land you have available the better. How much land is available at the site the Rec. Director wants to use?
Worth a look, I think. Would be a great addition to the area.

16 Kate Matison November 6, 2010 at 12:32 PM

Congratulations to Doreen for her vision in advocating such a great assett for kids. Clearing the lot and constructing a playground for kids good idea ! Playgrounds that challenge children are being recognized for enhancing learning, independence and imagination through play. Hey and fun! Clearly there are difficulties but let’s try to work them out.
I am on the Historical Commission and have been the point person on the roughly 2 year rehab. of the Former South Union School Building (official name) using CPA funds. The renovation is virtually finished and already the heating bills are on the building have dropped about 20%. A playground/ splash pad would complement the rejuvenated building.
See you at the meeting !
— Kate

17 Mike D November 6, 2010 at 6:59 PM


Could you tell us the total amount of funds that have been spent on that building over the past 5 years or so, including the elevator repairs, window re-glazing, and the total amount of funds it will take to bring that building up to the level suggested by the Southboro Facilities Manager? Next, could you tell us the dollar amount that equates to the 20% reduction in heating costs?

Also, do you know if the Arts Center pays anything to the town to use that building? I know that several years ago ( over 10) the Arts Council did pay for at part of the use of the building.

I have never seen these costs shown anywhere and it would be helpful to voters to have this information when they vote on the CPA appropriation at the Town meeting.

In these tough economic times, the voters should have all facts presented to them.

Thank you for the time you volunteer to help this town.

Also, to other posters, there were some excellent suggestions for Recreation activities. I saw on the town website that there is an opening on the Recreation Committee so perhaps someone might be interested in joining it? (At my age, I can’t even spell Recreation!)

18 Kate Matison November 6, 2010 at 8:46 PM

You can find it out from the Town. It’s all on record. All monies spent on the project were approved at Town Meeting 2007

19 Mark Ford November 7, 2010 at 6:01 PM


I don’t know who Mike D is, but his questions seem reasonable and well-intentioned. I’m hoping that I’m misinterpreting your response, because it didn’t seem helpful at all, especially given that you’re the point person.Kudos to Al for trying to help–and my recollection matches Al’s in that I believe the appropriations spanned several years, not just 2007.

So now, with Al’s heating guesstimate, another question or two…is $1200 per week for heat, dead of winter, a reasonable amount to pay for a municipal building of its size? Is the building fully occupied and utilized?

20 Al Hamilton November 7, 2010 at 1:07 PM


I believe there were at least 3 separate appropriations over multiple years for the items you asked about. I don’t have the exact figures but the elevator and a few other items (Non CPA funds) ran in excess of $600k and the elevator broke within a year of completion.

I believe the windows were funded in 2 appropriations that together amounted to about $200k. These were funded from CPA funds.

In the dead of winter before the windows were renovated the building could use up to $1500 of oil a week. A 20% savings would bring this down to $1200. I am not sure documenting savings at this point in the heating season is meaningful.

When the Arts center took over the building about 10 years ago they got it rent free with the understanding they would maintain the building. The costs of heating and maintenance made this untenable and the maintenance and operation of the building reverted to the Town.

I do not believe the Arts Center pays rent but I could be mistaken.

21 Mike D November 7, 2010 at 7:04 PM


I am stunned at the information you provided. Are you sure it is correct?

If I understand your post correctly, the town “gave” the building to the Arts Council with the understanding they would be responsible to maintain it. When the Arts Council could not afford the maintenance, the town paid for the repairs which so far have totaled more than $800,000 so we can “save” about $300 per week during peak heating season.

How much more is expected to be spent on this building?

Al, I am not a good numbers person so I may be missing something important here.

Thank you Al for the insight you provide to this blog. And thank you Kate for the work you do with the Historical Society.

22 Al Hamilton November 8, 2010 at 8:44 AM

The elevator was never the responsibility of the Arts center. It was required to bring the building into ADA compliance. But the proposition that we spend $200k for “historic” rennovation of the windows to save $300/week during heating season is appropriate.

As many of you know I think this building and Fayville Hall are white elephants/moneypits.

23 Andrew Zaterka November 7, 2010 at 10:17 AM

I support the splash pad idea. I worked at the splash pad in Northborough as a teen-back when it was a small pool. There were two workers, and it was an excellent summer job. (Humorous note to Al–I was able to crank out enough hours at just over minimum wage to later afford a house in Southborough.) Northborough charges a fee to out of town people to use the facility. Bottom line is the kids and parents love it. One thing that is needed, that Fayville park does not have, is shade. Everything there gets really hot and unusable in the summer.

24 Tessa Stephens November 7, 2010 at 11:14 PM

I’m sorry, but what does the cost of oil in the past or whether or not the Arts Council did or did not pay rent have to do with a splash pad playground that will do nothing but benefit the children of Southborough?

25 Al Hamilton November 8, 2010 at 8:49 AM

I just answered a question.

These facilities compete for our tax dollars to build and operate. We should not talk about the benefits of this facility without discussing how we will pay for them.

For the record, I like the idea of a splash pad and for that matter a skate park. I support projects that get kids off the sofa, outdoors and away from video games but we have to be able to build and operate these facilities within our collective means.

26 carrie alpert November 8, 2010 at 8:02 AM

Tessa, i agree with you–this is 2 threads discussed together. My children are beyond playground years, or at least asking to go to them and me using them as part of my daily routine. There seems to be a lack of focus on developing and maintaining playgrounds for the children–Joan’s point of the natural structure with use of green materials is a great one, i have seen them and they are eco-friendly, safe and easy on the eye.
The EMC one in Hopkinton was a child favorite of my kids and their peers (oh the joy of discovering it and thinking that i had struck g-o-l-d!) and i remember driving back from it in traffic many a warm evening. I believe this is an avenue that should be explored, if EMC is going to develop that parcel of land then they should be held accountable to give back to our community via a playground for the children.
I also agree that Fayville is in need of some shade and a bit of TLC, some sprucing up.

and to those who read this thread and think, “ugh! development of playgrounds–money wasted, we have no money to do this” you have to think about how people looking at this town view it—when a town has nice playgrounds, shops and feels good people want to be here, want to spend money here and want to live here.

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