Public Process for Proposed Ryan Playground started

The public process for the proposed redevelopment of Ryan Playground kicked off Tuesday, Sept. 21, with the first meeting on the project, which was held virtually and sponsored by the Boston Parks and Recreation Department.

Located on the Mystic River on the edge of Charlestown abutting Somerville, Ryan Playground covers just under nine acres, making it likely the largest open space in Charlestown, said Brandon Kunkel, a project consult with the Reading design and engineering firm, Weston & Sampson. The playground dates back to 1905, when it was converted from a mill pond and tannery into its current use, he said, thus also making it one of the oldest in the city’s park system.

The playground, which wasn’t officially named the “John J. Ryan Playground” until 1945, underwent a major renovation in 1932, with the addition of two ball fields with a backstop and seating, as well as a small support building, said Kunkel, and it has remained close to that configuration ever since, despite undergoing its last major renovation in 1997.

Because of the playground’s location directly on the water, the project team is anticipating a “very heavy permitting phase,” said Kunkel, at the city, state, and possibly even federal levels.

The project would also take into account climate change, added Kunkel, including looking closely at flood-risk management in anticipation of more extreme flooding events going forward.

Construction is expected to get underway in the fall of 2022, said B. Chatfield, Boston Parks Department parks project manager and landscape architect, with the playground reopening in the fall of 2023.

The city has the design for playground in the budget now, said Chatfield, and “is really eager to understand the different improvements people want on the site,” although there isn’t money in the budget yet for implementation of the project.

The city first needs to look at site resiliency because of its low elevation, said Chatfield, “but beyond that anything is up to you.”

A reimagined Ryan Playground, she said, could potentially offer opportunities for bike parking, another hockey rink, a basketball court, or a community green – “all the things that open space can be in Charlestown.”

Ryan Playground would also likely be expanded as part of the proposed Rutherford Avenue project, said Chatfield, although questions remains, since that project has yet to be built.

“It makes sense  for us, and we’re proceeding like it will happen,” said Chatfield.

Kevin Kelly, who has been involved in youth programming at the playground as both a youth and as an adult, requested that the green be replaced with turf (although some questioned whether this material would be more susceptible to flooding).

Cathy Reese asked if there would be an opportunity to replace or upgrade the support building at the playground, but Chatfield said this wasn’t currently budged for and would fall under the purview of the city’s Public Faculties Department.

David Cahill, who was previously involved in Charlestown Little League and coached baseball at Charles High School and now serves as the school’s football coach, requested the playground be moved from its current location fronting Alford Street, adding that the existing playground had become a haven for the homeless and a hotbed for nefarious activity.

“Lighting needs to be addressed right now because of the people who go down there in the nighttime,” said Cahill.

Others in attendance requested that a pedestrian connection along the Mystic River be made at Ryan Playground as part of the redevelopment plan.

Steve Van Dyke, who was previously involved in Charlestown Little League and now heads up the Town’s Tee-ball league, expressed concern that the number of playing fields wouldn’t be maintained for the duration of the project, since the playground would be closed for construction for about a year. He also cited an unprecedented demand for Little League and Tee-ball, adding that 90 kids have signed up for the latter activity.

A comprehensive meeting, co-hosted by the Parks and Recreation Department and the Boston Planning & Development Agency, to discuss open space at Ryan Playground, Hood Green, and Rutherford Avenue is scheduled to take place virtually on Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. Visit https://www.boston.gov/calendar/sullivan-square-open-space-meeting for more information.

While Chatfield, said there is a possibility for an addition meeting on the project in November, the second meeting hosted by the Parks and Recreation Department on Ryan Playground is scheduled for December, when several design alternatives will be presented.

A third meeting sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department would follow in January, she said, when the project team will solicit the public for additional feedback on the schematic design before moving forward with the plan.

For more information on the Ryan Playground, including a survey on its use, visit https://www.boston.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation/improvements-john-j-ryan-playground.

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