Small Budget Reduces Scope of DeFilippo Playground Improvements

DeFilippo Playground, known as “The Gassy,” is years overdue for a major revamp, but Boston Parks Department officials presented a minimal scope of work for the planned renovation with a budget of only $275,000. Residents that attended this week’s community meeting were appreciative of the planned improvements, but identified several park areas in serious disrepair that officials said will not be fixed.

There are no plans to repair the crumbling “Flights” terraces that step up toward Snow Hill Street. Project Manager Cathy Baker-Eclipse said, “We realize there are serious and perceived problems there, but we don’t have enough of a budget.” It was also unclear how much new lighting could be added to the park to increase safety. In addition, the basketball, handball and street hockey courts will not be resurfaced for another 5-7 years, according to officials.

Several residents raised concerns regarding the persistent flooding in the park. The Parks Department said they will make a “best efforts” attempt to address the drainage issues, however, they identified constraints by Boston Water & Sewer that may not allow them to funnel water to the street drainage system.

“My biggest fear is that you will put in a new tot lot without changing the poor drainage,” said resident David Roderick. In addition to ruining the grass and creating large muddy areas, Roderick claimed the flooding is causing damage to nearby buildings. Prince St. resident, Sue Beneviste, brought photos of flooding from last April showing nearly a foot of water in the playground area.

Officials said that the drains were vacuumed out last Fall, but they believe some pipes may be cracked, broken or never even connected to street drains. A camera scope will be sent through the drains to assess the situation.

Source: Boston Parks Department (click image to enlarge)
Source: Boston Parks Department (click image to enlarge)

DeFilippo Playground was last renovated in 1992, nearly 20 years ago. The city is using the same consultant who planned that renovation, Tamar Zimmerman of Crosby Schlessinger Smallridge (CSS). This week’s meeting is the first of three design meetings with the work expected to start in the Fall of 2011.

Consultant Zimmerman gave an overview of the “positives” of the park:

  • good solar exposure
  • mature trees with a mix of honey locus, oak and Norway maples
  • Northwest winds are blocked by the adjacent garage which forms an edge (and a handball court)
  • acts as a conduit connecting Prince St. to Snow Hill St. and the Copps Hill area
  • brick wall gives the park a nice atmosphere
  • lots of benches for sitting
  • the park is very well utilized by the surrounding residential population

Park officials hope to reach out to parents in the neighborhood to find out what type of play equipment would be most beneficial. Currently, the tot lot is for smaller children, up to 5 years old. There was some discussion of adding equipment for older children, up to 12 years and/or fitness stations often seen in other parks. Teenagers mostly use the open courts.

Some residents liked the idea of a tricycle and electric car loop. The swings take up a lot of space, but attendees seemed in favor of keeping them. The surfacing of the tot lot is expected to be replaced. Parents have also requested more than one picnic table for seating and perhaps a diaper changing area. Retaining as many of the existing trees was also identified as a priority.

Zimmerman said they are looking for feedback on how much grass and lawn space is desired. Grass is difficult to maintain and the existing lawns have mostly been turned into dirt and mud. If new lawns are to be added, officials said they would need a plan to protect them.

In the 1992 renovation, the wall along Prince St. was lowered to provide more visibility into the park. Residents noted that the wall is a favorite sitting spot and suggested adding a step or two for bleacher type viewing facing the courts. The steps near the garage area were identified as a spot where garbage collects.

Local artist Nathan Swain has approached the city to install murals over the concrete “windows” on the garage side of the park. Officials have also talked with Steven Virgilio who holds movie events during the summer. The famous painted Italian flag on the garage wall will remain in place.

Lighting in the park was identified as a serious problem. “The lights were off for over 20 days straight this winter,” reported one resident, citing a public safety concern. After persistent complaints, a temporary fix was installed. Parks Department officials said they will investigate the lighting issue and look to add lighting in dark spots.

Dog waste issues were raised with no obvious solution. Parks Department officials said there is not enough space for separate dog runs. Officials said they would contact some dog groups in the neighborhood to discuss ideas. Resident David Kubiak noted, “If you do not have a dog park nearby, then this becomes the dog park.” Parks officials said they could install some fencing around certain areas, recognizing that more enforcement is likely needed.

This playground project is separate from the brick wall reconstruction along Snow Hill Street where a final design was recently selected after a series of community meetings. Construction work on the long brick wall is expected to commence this summer.

The legacy of the “Gassy” comes from the when a large gas tank was placed there in 1820. The 1919 North End Molassess Disaster raised awareness of the public safety issues associated with the tank and it was removed in the 1930s. The space was initially a baseball field and later made into a general playground in the 1960s. The round concrete foundation of the gas tank still exists about 2 feet underground, centered under the basketball area. The foundation is one reason why trees do not exist in that area.

The park was named after John DeFilippo, a World War II chaplain from the North End who served in Germany and was killed in battle.

Residents with questions or comments can contact Cathy Baker-Eclipse, Project Manager for the Boston Parks Department, at

View the NE/W Community Calendar for more meetings and events.