2017-06-29 / Front Page

Basketball Hoops to Come Down

By Brooke Constance White

After more than a year of attempting to resolve the issue of children and young adults using the Pell Elementary School playground and basketball courts after hours by using camera surveillance and heightened police presence, the school committee and Superintendent Colleen Jermain decided to have the basketball hoops removed last Friday for the summer months. City councilors said they are committed to finding an alternative, after several residents spoke at the June 28 council meeting. First Ward City Councilor Susan Taylor said the council is unanimous in their commitment to finding an alternative for the children.

Following meetings with playground neighbors, who had been complaining that their quality of life has been affected because of the noise from the basketball courts and some of the vulgar language and inappropriate behavior they’ve witnessed, the committee had also agreed during its June 13 meeting to request that the city council change its ordinance so that the park closes at 6 p.m. instead of sunset.

“They’ve been patient and this has been going on for quite a while,” Jermain said. “We have cameras on the school positioned to see if and when there are people on the courts, and the police department has been very supportive when neighbors have called in. The neighbors have been unable to enjoy their homes and backyards because of their proximity to the courts. If they have young children, it’s hard to put them to bed at night because of the constant banging of the basketball on the court. Some of the language and behaviors the neighbors have witnessed have been very upsetting.”

On the other side, there are a group of community members who are unhappy to see the hoops go away, saying there’s nowhere else in the North End for kids to play basketball.

Jessica Coulter, a local activist and resident of the North End, has created a “Save Our Hoops” Facebook page in an effort to inform community members and parents of kids who might use the courts that the hoops have been taken down. Although she’s upset about their removal, she said she’s also upset because, to her knowledge, no one was informed of the decision.

“I think it’s a terrible idea to take the hoops down. I have no qualms saying that at all,” she said. “I think it was a poor decision made by adults who legitimately don’t understand… because they didn’t reach out…. I’m trying to advocate for my community knowing that the neighbors who are complaining are also part of the community. Why would they take away the only basketball hoops for a community that’s been marginalized?”

Niko Merritt, founder of Sankofa Community Connection, said she’s concerned that the hoops are being taken down before an alternative place for North End kids and young people to play basketball is decided on.

“You can’t displace them and then complain if they get into trouble,” she said. “I hope they are able to have a solid space or location for kids before they take the hoops away and give them nothing. Even if the Florence Gray Center could be open extra hours, I don’t know if that’s an option or alternative. But it would be a possible alternative instead of saying ‘Good luck kids, find something better to do.’”

School Committee Chairman David Hanos said he thought it was unfortunate that the hoops would be removed but that the issue had gone on for so long and the neighbors were tired of dealing with disrespectful park users in the evening and late at night. One neighbor said that there was a young adult in the park who jumped over the fence, got into their pool and posted a picture on Snapchat, prompting the neighbors to request that changes be made at the park.

“Do I like the idea of taking the hoops down? No, I think the kids need a place to play and there’s really nothing else in the north end of the city,” he said. “But I can also understand the pain of the neighbors. At the end of the day, no matter what restrictions are put in place, I think it’s a policing issue. Taking down the hoops is certainly not the answer, but with any luck, we’ll be able to collaborate with community partners and put some courts in somewhere else in the North End so our kids have a place to play, because they need that.”

While Jermain said she can understand the neighbors’ request to have the basketball hoops taken out, she agreed that there has to be a balance between helping the neighbors enjoy their backyards peacefully and also providing appropriate recreational opportunities for students and young people so they engage in positive, healthy activities. She said she has reached out to the district’s community partners such as the Newport Health Equity Zones and the Boys and Girls Club to find a solution where the neighbors are happy and local children also have a space to enjoy the outdoors.

“We all want to work together to provide activities for students and at the same time balance making sure the neighbors can enjoy their homes and backyards,” she said. “Kids are kids and they’re going to want to play basketball and we want to provide that for them, but at the same time, it can’t be happening at all hours because we don’t have staff or personnel to monitor the situation during the summer months.”

Ultimately, Jermain said, there needs to be a bigger discussion with all of the neighbors, community members and partners who live and work on the north side of the city. “We’re talking about maybe having pop-up basketball hoops that can be moved around or something,” she said. “We need to work together and find a solution.”

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