Residents still awaiting improvements at Bushee Park

Residents still awaiting improvements at Bushee Park

Tom Guay, a resident of Walsh Avenue, grew up playing at the former Bushee Park playground behind the Municipal Annex. In 2016, the town was awarded a DEM outdoor recreation grant for improvements at the now vacant lot, but residents are concerned that delays by town officials mean the project has not gotten off the ground. (Breeze photos by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Behind the Municipal Annex on Smithfield Road sits a vacant lot about 80 feet wide and 300 feet long. While the overgrown space doesn’t look like much, local residents remember when the lot was a playground known as Bushee Park, a neighborhood gathering place serving several generations of children and their families.

Thanks to an outdoor recreation grant from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the lot could once again return to its former status as a public park, but residents are concerned that delays from town officials have prevented the project from getting off the ground.

One of those residents is Tom Guay, a former Town Council member who grew up down the street from the former park. After marrying his wife, Donna, he returned to the neighborhood to raise his family and said he has countless memories of frequenting the park as both a child and a parent during his 50 years living in the neighborhood.

“There was a big steel slide in the far corner. There were seesaws, there were monkey bars,” he recalled.

Now, the lot sits empty except for a neighbor’s camper parked in a corner and a flattened area at the center that once housed plastic preschool play equipment, removed sometime last year. According to residents, a metal fence around the park was never replaced after it was damaged by snowplows, and, in recent years, J. H. Lynch and Sons Construction used the park to store equipment when the company did work on the nearby Park Avenue intersection. A Google Maps street view shows there used to be a yellow sign reading “Playground” on an adjacent telephone pole, but the sign has since been removed, replaced with one that reads “Dead end.”

According to Guay, it’s a sad lack of upkeep for public property in a neighborhood that’s seen a return of young families in recent years. While some homeowners, such as he and his wife, are empty-nesters who have called the close-knit neighborhood behind the Municipal Annex home for decades, newer families are beginning to move into the area, including a couple on the block who have four young children. Guay said he often sees the children playing in the street and wishes they had a place to go, as he did when he was a child.

“It’s returning to its days of old. Except for this thing,” he said, referring to the park.

In 2016, partly at the urging of longtime resident Bob Melucci, who had advocated for improvements at the park for several years, the town applied for and received a $53,440 RIDEM outdoor recreation grant. The grant, which had a $13,360 matching town contribution, would fund new playground equipment along with shrubbery and a bike rack, according to Public Works Director Raymond Pendergast. At the center would be the new park’s highlight, a figure-eight walking and bike trail designed as a space for young children to learn how to ride their bikes.

Since then, residents have awaited the start of construction on the new park, but said they were disappointed to learn that town officials do not have a start date in mind. Town Administrator Gary Ezovski said the delays are due to the ongoing planning of renovations at the Municipal Annex. While the building and former playground are separated by a parking lot, Ezovski said he does not intend to begin work on the park until town officials have a plan in place for renovations to the building to ensure that all construction moving forward is consistent with plans for town property in the area.

“The last thing that I would want to see is a circumstance that we go and spend money on any activity and thereafter say we’ve got to displace the work we did,” he said.

While the timeline of the renovation project is dependent on the work of the Municipal Buildings Review Task Force, Ezovski said the bridging documents are near complete and the town expects to issue a request for proposals for the project soon. Task Force Chairman Paul Vadenais was away on vacation this week and unable to be reached for comment on the timeline of the project.

Guay, meanwhile, said he does not see why plans can’t move forward on the park as approved. He expressed concerns that the state grant may expire, though RIDEM spokesperson Michael Healey confirmed the grant remains active and communities may apply for a time extension.

Guay also said he felt the park and its surrounding neighborhood were of low priority for town officials due to their isolated location on the Woonsocket line. In the close-knit collection of dead-end streets where residents still wave at each other as they drive by, the park could be a valuable asset for residents and maybe even draw visitors from other parts of town.

“It just seems like we’re not part of North Smithfield sometimes. We’re the forgotten part,” said Guay.

Bushee Park, located behind the town Municipal Annex on Smithfield Road, was once a neighborhood gathering place with a large playground. In 2016, the town was awarded a DEM outdoor recreation grant to establish a bike and walking trail at the park, but residents are concerned that delays by town officials mean the project has not yet begun.

Comments

I can not think of a better place for a town park. The parents with young children i talk to say they would feel much safer next to the police station. No more excuses.

Wow, do i remember as a child playing at the playground, swings, see saw, slide, we even had a summer playground supervisor with all sorts of things to keep us kids busy, it was fantastic! Fast forward to an area where all there is is dirt, some grass & a camper on the property....it kind of looks like a wasteland.