The Parks & Recreation Department is simultaneously experiencing tremendous growth and a challenging staff loss, Director Jay Guelfi told commissioners at a hybrid Parks & Recreation Commission meeting Thursday night.
At the start of the meeting, Guelfi announced that longtime coordinator Jennifer Hart recently resigned to return to her former career in graphic arts.
“There is no way for me to overstate what Jenny has meant — not just to [Parks & Rec] but to the community in general,” he said. “Every resident in town has probably been touched by something Jenny did over the past seven years.”
Guelfi highlighted how Hart “through her own creativity and sheer will” designed virtual programming for the department at the start of the pandemic, when traditional activities were forced to shut down.
“She developed virtual and online programs so that people would have something to engage themselves with,” he continued. “She’ll be missed, but at the same time, we’re happy for her to do what she wants to do in this new phase in her life.”
“We’ve got some big shoes to fill,” added Chair Dan Terry.
There will be a thorough review of coordinator candidates by Guelfi and board members, Guelfi said.
Enrollment growth creates need for space
Hart’s departure has come at a time when the department is experiencing tremendous growth. Guelfi noted that there were 630 children registered for summer programming at the end of February 2022. As of Feb. 5 this year, registrants numbered 700, and the total jumped to 850 in less than two weeks.
“This is something to celebrate as well as a cause for concern,” Guelfi said. “We could approach 900-950 registrations easily. And it’s not just for traditional programming; it’s for everything.”
This growth has highlighted the need for more gym, field and classroom space for the department. Guelfi pointed out his concerns at a recent Select Board meeting.
Members expressed hope that they can meet with the School Committee to convey their wishes for a regulation-sized basketball court and a playing field for the proposed new elementary school building on Hayden Rowe Street. They also planned to ask for time on the School Committee’s agenda to request that the department’s needs be considered when it is time to determine how the current Elmwood School building will be repurposed.
Member Amy O’Donnell, who serves as the commission’s School Committee liaison, said she thinks it will “be a challenge” for the department to get a field at the new school building after looking at the proposed layouts. She described seeing a playing field on the plans, but she noted that the configurations still are under discussion.
Liisa Jackson, who chaired the meeting, said it was “important to stake our claim” to the School Committee regarding the need for recreational space that would not only benefit students but also serve residents.
The department has been working to create new offerings such as pickleball and cricket while also providing more activities for older residents, such as last month’s popular jigsaw puzzle competition. While this is traditionally a slow time of year for Parks & Rec, according to Guelfi, preparations for the Boston Marathon and summer programming will kick into high gear in a month’s time.
In regard to summer staffing, Guelfi said that about 90 percent of the playground staff will be returning, along with more than 60 percent of the beach staff so far.
“We are anticipating some new faces and a more mature leader,” he said.
Pickleball court progresses
Guelfi said that he and consultant Andrew Leonard are set to submit the design plans and supporting documents for the proposed pickleball courts slated to be built off of Fruit Street to Principal Planner John Gelcich. They will be reviewed by the Planning Board at an upcoming meeting. Once the Planning Board approves the plans, Guelfi said the project should be ready to be put out to bid.
He added that there are no issues with the project from the town’s conservation administrator or the Water Department representative.
Said Guelfi: “After the dog park he built, I have total confidence in Andrew.”
Requests approved for parade, mural
The board unanimously approved the use of the Town Common for the annual Hopkinton Little League Parade, which will be held on April 23.
It also unanimously approved a request by Ilana Casady from the Hopkinton Cultural Council to allow for the expansion of the Celebration of Diversity Mural by three to five segments this year, pending approval of the artwork by the commission. This will be the third year for the project, and Guelfi described the first two as “home runs.”
Pyne Field reconfiguration moves ahead
The chair of the Community Preservation Committee this week approved the disbursement of up to $4,900 for civil engineering firm Gale and Associates to conduct a study and design of a parking facility for Pyne Field. The firm will present the commission with a design and budget for the entire project a month before Annual Town Meeting in May, Guelfi said.
The next Parks & Recreation Commission meeting will be held on March 9 at 5:30 p.m.
WE will miss Jenny –terrific person and always cared about the town.