By Ginger DeShaney

The Department of Conservation and Recreation and BSC Design Group held a public meeting Wednesday night to present their design – inspired by neighborhood kids – for improvements to the Michael Joyce Memorial Playground at Marine Park. 

Residents and elected officials expressed concern that the meeting was not widely advertised, therefore many people didn’t know about it. DCR officials pledged to improve outreach and notification for the next public meeting in March.

Danielle Mellett, a landscape architect for DCR, said they have been working with the McGrath family in memory of their son, Colin, through the Colin’s Joy Project and the Colin’s Creativity Squad to renovate the playground in a more inclusive and accessible footprint. 

South Boston schoolchildren were involved in creating colorful drawings in 2020 that provided the inspiration for the playground design. The kids also voted on the theme for the playground:  A Magical Ocean.

“Their imaginations know no limits,” said Ricardo Austrich, a landscape architect with BSC Group. “That was the thing that moved us to develop this new playground. It really responds to what kids really want to see.” 

DCR and BSC Group are still in the planning stages, said Austrich, “but we wanted to show you where our current thinking has taken us.

“[The playground is] going to be more inclusive, it will be safer, it’s really going to be one of the most accessible playgrounds in all of DCR’s playgrounds,” he said. “We’re really very excited about that.”

The playground design includes things the kids wanted: colorful visuals, a playful entrance, an overhead climber, look-out spots, activity panels, hidden treasures, tubes, connecting structures, sea creatures, and more. 

“It’s really inspired by the neighborhood kids,” Austrich said. “We believe we have an incredibly special playground.”

The proposal moves the site of the playground to the north of the current playground and increases the size of it from 7,000 square feet to about 9,500 square feet. The design combines the two currently separate playground areas for 2- to 5-year-olds and 5- to 12-year-olds into one area. Handicapped accessible playground equipment will be incorporated. Bench seating will surround the play area. A black steel fence will encircle the whole playground with two gated entrances. Some of the dirt paths leading to the playground will be paved, and a new community gathering space with some benches and a possible art sculpture will also be added.

No trees will be taken down for this project (except for one that has died) and new trees will be added.

About 55 people attended the virtual meeting, including Rep. David Biele, City Council President Ed Flynn, and new City Councilor At-Large Erin Murphy. 

While the majority of attendees liked the design of the playground – and thanked the McGrath family for their amazing work on this – many concerns were raised, especially late-night activity.

Joe Jackson said the concern he and his neighbors have is moving the park closer to the residential side because of the activity in the park late at night, often resulting in police calls. But he said police have said they don’t have the proper resources to patrol the area.

“The expanded park is going to bring more people and how do we manage that, how do the neighbors deal with it?” he said about the late-night activity.

The DiPerri family also mentioned the late-night activity and doesn’t want to see the playground damaged. The family wants to see the playground, the park, the neighbors, and the community protected.  

John Conroy suggested that DCR lock the gates to the playground every night to discourage gathering there. But he also noted that the community gathering area could draw late-night visitors. 

Brian Miller is excited about what he sees of the park, but he is also concerned about people congregating late at night. “When we’re putting resources like this into a beautifly park, can DCR have a ranger available at night or on the weekends? I’d love to see it built but I’d also like to see it maintained.”

Florence Holmes is concerned about trash. “With increased usage, what will happen with trash receptacles? Most have been eliminated and after a warm weekend day, we as residents are cleaning the park up.”

Rachel Pearson, president of the South Boston Moms Club, said the club is very excited about the new park and playground design. 

Mary Joyce of the Friends of Michael Joyce, whom the playground is named after, called the plan “magnificent.”

Lyndsay Picciano said, “This design is so well thought out and the distance from the road/fencing is much safer than the current design.”

Becca Lanstein said she is in favor of moving the playground for more safety for the children. “The playground looks amazing. Great work, everyone!”

“I don’t think [the park] is big enough and I don’t think it’s grand enough for us in South Boston,” said Bill Bailey of the City Point Neighborhood Association. “I think we need a bigger park.”

He proposed moving the park next to the Murphy Rink in the pit, expanding it more and making it more accessible. “Let’s blow the doors off this thing and make it a park that’s representative of South Boston and what we deserve down here.”