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Three of Watertown’s seven summer playgrounds may be cut

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WATERTOWN — The summer playground program may be taking a hit under the proposed city budget, with three of seven playgrounds being eliminated.

City officials are calling the proposed cuts a restructuring of the program as little-used playgrounds would not reopen this summer.

As a result, Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin E. Gardner said, most of the activities would be held at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds playground. However, the activities and programs that the Parks and Recreation Department has added during the past two years will remain, city officials said.

“We’re still going to have the same amount of programs,” Mrs. Gardner said, noting that a kickball league will be offered for the first time this summer.

The North Elementary School, Thompson Park and East Hills playgrounds would be staffed, while Academy, North Hamilton and Portage playgrounds would not be open this summer.

The deteriorating Thompson Park pool also would not be staffed this summer. The move to shutter the 90-year-old pool was expected since the Watertown City Council has discussed in the past whether it was worth it to make major repairs or replace it.

In 2012, council members held off spending $650,000 to replace the pool. The city also has pools at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds on Coffeen Street and at North Elementary School on East Division Street, which were upgraded this past year at a cost of $115,400.

Under the proposed budget, Parks and Recreation Department spending would decrease from $129,366 to $65,671, with $31,633 of that amount reductions in temporary summer hirings and $13,500 in equipment reductions.

Usually, two people staff each playground, and it takes about seven lifeguards to run the Thompson Park pool during the six-week playground season.

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham said the restructuring makes sense. He said it’s not like a few decades ago, when dozens of children attended summer playgrounds; now they have different interests.

“They’re underutilized,” Councilwoman Theresa R. Macaluso said. “You have one or two children and staff sit there with nothing to do.”

Even while they consider the Parks Department cuts, there seems to be enough support to proceed with a $6.2 million to $7 million renovation of the Municipal Ice Arena at the fairgrounds. Mr. Graham and three council members still support the project. Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. has major reservations, citing costs and the city’s financial position.

A Rochester engineering firm is being paid $510,000 to design the project. Contracts would be awarded next fall.

Last week, City Manager Sharon A. Addison suggested cutting back on the scale of the project, completing only necessary repairs on the arena, such as replacing its roof and floor and upgrading locker rooms.

Before releasing her $39.9 million budget last week, Ms. Addison told the heads of the the police, fire, public works and parks departments and the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library to make 10 percent across-the-board budget cuts. The other department heads were told to find 2 percent budget cuts.

Her tentative spending plan carries a 3.6 percent increase in the tax levy. The projected tax rate would be $8.93 per $1,000 of assessed value, a $1.63, or 22.3 percent, increase.

Council members have set budget sessions for 6 p.m. May 12 and 13.

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