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Parks & Recreation Commission defines need for written policies, approves gaga pit

by | Dec 13, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Parks & Recreation Commission at its meeting Tuesday evening discussed the need to have written policies in place regarding program registration for out-of-town residents as well as scholarship parameters for lower-income Hopkinton residents.

Department Director Jon Lewitus raised the registration issue because spring registration will begin next month. Summer registration will follow in February. He wanted to assess the commission’s response to accepting out-of-town registrants and if there should be a fee markup for them.

“There’s not documentation that I could find that clearly states [a resident versus nonresident policy],” he explained. “It’s sort of just been staff doing it on their own.”

Chair Dan Terry noted that, for some programs, allowing non-Hopkinton residents would help to “create a critical mass” that would provide enough members to support or expand a program.

As an example, he noted the popularity of the ski program, where a second bus had to be obtained. Out-of-town residents potentially could defray the cost in the future if they are allowed.

Member Amy O’Donnell suggested that letting in outsiders “should not be an all or nothing thing.” She noted that the popular basketball program has difficulty getting gym space. More participants would exacerbate the need.

“I’d like to know why we have never discussed this before,” said vice chair Laura Hanson, who has been on the commission for several years. “In all my time on Parks & Rec, this has never some up before, except for the beach.”

Added Hanson: “We had a serious lack of policy.”

Lewitus highlighted the adult pickup leagues, where non-residents play pickup field hockey and basketball. He also noted that he has received calls from parents in neighboring towns whose children didn’t make a basketball team but would like an opportunity to play.

He added that he is exploring the idea of a high school basketball league for kids who didn’t make their high school or junior varsity teams.

Policies need to be codified, Lewitus said, because ad hoc acceptances are difficult to monitor. At the next meeting on Dec. 28, he will present several options for the commission to consider.

Said Terry: “I don’t want to have a policy that’s so restrictive that we can’t do what makes sense.”

O’Donnell’s concern was that an influx of out-of-towners might prevent longstanding residents from registering. Some residents are used to signing up late and may miss an opportunity to sign up for a program. Lewitus explained that “the policy needs to be tightened up a little bit.”

Terry suggested that registration be offered first to Hopkinton residents. A wait list then could accept area residents.

Another issue that the commission considered was the allocation of scholarship funds for lower-income families. Lewitus noted that the policy is published on the Parks & Rec website.

While some towns ask for financial assistance information from the schools, Lewitus said others are more strict and require income tax returns. He appeared to lean toward Hopkinton’s present policy of using school verification of financial need.

Currently, eligible families receive a $1,500 annual credit for department-run programs. He asked if commissioners wanted to consider changing the amount, whether percentages of aid should be given based on income, how need is verified, and if the aid should also go toward vendor-based programs.

Terry noted that a vendor procurement policy may need to be established. Lewitus noted that many vendors will align themselves with a community’s scholarship policy.

Commissioners discussed the need to offer scholarships versus the ability to maintain slots for paying customers. The issue will be revisited at a future meeting, where Lewitus will present financial data on registrations.

Girl Scout gaga pit concept approved 4-0

Members of Girl Scout Troop 62495 presented their proposal to create a playing area for gaga — a dodgeball-style game — at EMC Park, which the commission approved in a 4-0 vote once its portability was clarified.

Troop Lina Gill noted that the eight eighth grade Girl Scouts involved in the project have been together in the troop since kindergarten. A past project they created three years ago was the Bee Kindness Garden. 

Said Lina Gill: “They have been committed not just to Scouting but to each other.”

Scouts Isabella Gill, Siya Bonala, Charlotte Diana and Olivia Thompson took turns explaining aspects of the gaga pit project and involvement in the troop. They are seeking to earn a Silver Award upon its completion.

The gaga pit will be either hexagonal or octagonal in shape and be 20 feet in diameter on a 25 square foot plot of land. It is made of high-grade durable wood composite that can be assembled or disassembled with relative ease. It will cost approximately $3,400, which they plan to raise through various fundraisers, donations and cookie sales. They plan to put it next to the paved Boy Scout map at EMC Park.

Lina Gill noted that the gaga pit at Sandy Beach is only open to residents, whereas this one could attract people outside of town.

“We chose gaga ball because of its inclusivity and social benefits,” said Bonala. “It also evens the playing field, and anyone from any age can play.”

Commissioners noted that there are plans for the skate park in motion at EMC Park, and more facilities and programming may occur there. Concerns were alleviated when the Scouts explained that the gaga pit could be deconstructed and moved.


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