Amherst playground removed Recreation equipment making way for burial grounds

AMHERST – A playground donated to the town as a memorial to a child who died was dismantled and removed from Cemetery Fields.

Only a small part of the Sarah Jeanne Roy Memorial Playground will likely be salvaged, a swing set and tire swings.

“There’s been no success, despite efforts by numerous members of the community and this board to find a suitable location for the entire playground,” Town Administrator Jim O’Mara reported to selectmen Aug. 4.

The playground was given to Amherst in 1998 by Dan and Nancy Roy in memory of their daughter who died at 21 months of an acute viral infection.

It was the only public playground in Amherst not on school property, except for swings at the Brick School, which is used for school administration offices, and the swings at the Baboosic Lake beach.

That means it was the only playground available when schools are not in session.

Cemetery Trustees have ordered all recreation equipment removed from the Merrimack Road fields to make way a new cemetery.

Recreation Director Craig Fraley told selectmen there is a shaded area in a corner of the Bean Fields near the Recreation Department office where the swings can go. The Roy family wants the plaque returned to them if the town has no place for it, but Fraley said it will probably be installed near a beautiful tree on the site.

The relocation proposal will go to the Amherst School Board on Aug. 19, because the school district owns the Bean fields.

No space has been found for the rest of the equipment, however. Fraley said he doesn’t know whether the elaborate climbing structure will still be usable after it’s removed, and parts for it are no longer made.

Most likely it will have to be stored behind the DPW building, O’Mara said.

Relocation of the swings will cost about $2,000, and the value of similar new playground equipment would be more than $100,000, Fraley said.

Selectman Mike Akillian noted there is more than money involved.

“We are losing something of great significance,” he said, “it’s not just economics, it’s a piece of the quality of life in Amherst.”

Wendy Rannenberg, chairwoman of the Recreation Commission’s subcommittee looking at replacing Cemetery Fields, said they reached a dead end in finding a large enough space for all the equipment.

In July 1998, the Board of Selectmen and Cemetery Trustees signed an agreement to allow, for 10 years, the memorial playground on the Merrimack Road property, which belongs to the trustees, according to a Cabinet story at the time. The agreement came after months of contention, with trustees questioning the temporary aspect of the equipment.