Amherst must find a new home for playground

AMHERST – Selectmen have all but given up hope that recreation use will continue at Cemetery Fields in Amherst, and that means a big problem of having enough fields for children’s sports.

And there’s another problem, though it’s smaller; What to do with the playground on the property?

Cemetery Trustees have told the town that all recreation use of the fields must end by Sept. 1, and on March 11, voters rejected articles on the town warrant that might have saved the fields for recreation.

The Sarah Jeanne Roy Memorial Playground, the only Amherst playground not on school property, has been there for 15 years, and now the board has to decide where to relocate it.

At the selectmen’s March 24 meeting, Dwight Brew, who was re-elected chairman, said he met with Wendy Rannenberg who was chairwoman of a committee charged with identifying alternative land if Cemetery Fields can’t be used. They came up with three options for a new playground site: a town-owned lot across from Wilkins School, land on Baboosic Lake Road owned by the school district and land behind the Middle Street ice rink.

“We will need to make a decision quickly,” Brew said.

Selectman Tom Grella said that he and the late George Infanti had looked at the playground situation last year and decided that Foundry Road, where Wilkins School is located, has too much traffic and poor visibility. As for the Baboosic Lake property, he said, it would be expensive to build a parking lot there.

The board talked about forming a committee that could reach out to neighbors of proposed properties, but they also agreed that they can’t wait until a new recreation director is hired.

Longtime Recreation Director Nancy McMillan retired from the post and her last day was March 29.

Cost of moving the playground has been estimated at $15,000.

Two warrant articles aimed at saving the 48-acre field for recreation – one that would have replaced Cemetery Trustees with the Board of Selectmen and another that would have raised $180,000 to buy part of the Merrimack Road fields – were rejected by overwhelming margins on March 11.

It’s not alone

The playground is not the only thing that must move – there is a baseball backstop, sprinklers, pumps and white fencing that surrounds the property.

Town Administrator Jim O’Mara said he’d like to talk to the Cemetery Trustees.

“If we have to take all of these things, I’d like to hear it from them,” he said. “Maybe there are things they would like left behind.”

Also, Brew noted that “it doesn’t make any sense to sell them anything, since they get their money from the same place we do.”