Concord youth group makes its plea for lights at Keach Park soccer field

  • The soccer field at Keach Park is seen in a photo on the city's website. City of Concord—

Monitor staff
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Twenty members of a Concord youth group sat through two hours of budget presentations Wednesday to make their appeal for lights on at least one soccer field at Keach Park.

They weren’t successful yet, as the city councilors tentatively moved the parks and recreation budget ahead unchanged, but they left the meeting full of optimism.

“I’m feeling good – not like after a championship game, but going to the finals,” said Martin Toe, one of the organizers of the group, Change for Concord.

Its members, a diverse group focused on making the city more youth-friendly, said they plan to continue collecting signatures for their petition and return for a future, final budget hearing. That’ll be the championship, Toe said.

The five representatives who pulled up chairs before the city council Wednesday – representing almost the only public comments all night – handed over a petition with 60 signatures collected over three days, they said. The city councilors asked Parks and Recreation Director David Gill to return with an estimate for what it would cost to implement their proposal.

Emilyn Ramos, who read a letter from Change for Concord, said soccer is the most popular activity at the park, but the games are cut short by sundown, especially since most players go to the park after school or work.

“By the time the ball gets rolling, it’s dusk, and by that time, we have less than a half-hour left to play,” she said. “Lights on the field would significantly increase the opportunity to play longer and engage in this healthy and community-building activity.”

She also said they hoped for another portable toilet, more frequent cleaning of the bathrooms, more garbage cans, and resurfacing of the basketball and tennis courts.

Another member of the group, Yudap Rijah, noted that the soccer games have been a “great platform” for Heights residents – including immigrants and refugees – to get to know one another and form a common bond.

“With people coming from different backgrounds, from different countries, you learn a lot of different cultures through soccer,” he said.

Mayor Jim Bouley, saying he was going to play the role of the “reality guy,” quizzed the group on whether they’d reached out to abutters who might oppose the addition of lights.

Toe replied that several neighbors had signed the petition, “People know what we’re trying to do and they’re for it.”

Councilor Byron Champlin advised the group that even if their request doesn’t make it into the budget this year, they should keep trying because the political process rewards persistence. Ramos noted that they’d already taken that into consideration, too.

The city councilors applauded the Change for Concord group for its organization and preparedness, with Councilor Brent Todd saying, “I think if we’re all lucky in the city, we’re looking at some of our future city councilors here, because you all are well-prepared and more articulate than I usually am.”

Councilor Fred Keach, whose late father was the former parks and recreation director for whom the park is named, also had some kind words.

“I do have to say, he would be quite proud of you folks coming out and kind of mobilizing,” Keach said. “I’ve always thought it was one of the most important parks in the city because it serves a population of people who are new to Concord, have sometimes limited resources.”

Keach added of his father with a laugh: “He’d be all smiles seeing you guys coming out here and demanding lights and demanding some services, so thank you for coming out.”

After the council’s vote, Bouley explained that they “didn’t approve the lights right now, but it’s a process.” He said Gill and City Manager Tom Aspell would work out how much the proposal would cost.

“To make the decision, we have to get all the information we can, so that’s kind of what we’re doing right now,” he said.

Then they’ll make a final decision next month, he said. Change for Concord organizers said they plan to come back with even more signatures for that, their championship.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)