Saint John may reduce playgrounds and baseball fields

Saint John may start reducing the number of playgrounds and baseball fields in the city as it develops a new plan for recreation services.

Play-SJ plan will look at improving some recreation facilities by cutting others

Saint John is considering relinquishing some of its baseball fields and playgrounds that are no longer used. (Connell Smith/CBC)

Saint John is creating a new recreation strategy for the city that is expected to recommend cutting some of the city’s little-used playgrounds and baseball fields.

Play-SJ is the name of the city’s master plan that will soon lay out a new strategy for Saint John’s recreational infrastructure.

A key part of the plan will be looking at the existing baseball fields and playgrounds to assess whether it is possible to provide better services at fewer recreational areas.

The city has 30 baseball fields and many of those are grown over because of underuse. Meanwhile, the city has roughly 71 playgrounds spread out across Saint John.

Kevin Watson, the city’s recreation and neighbourhood support manager, said Saint John has an overabundance of playgrounds.

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"We're looking for quality. We would love to improve our quality.  This may mean reducing the quantity of playgrounds," Watson said.

Watson said the city’s review is intended to improve some of its playgrounds and baseball fields while divesting itself of those it can no longer afford to keep.

The recreation manager said the city would ideally like to hand over any surplus playgrounds to neighbourhood groups.

"They can maybe take a piece of property, say an old playground, and bring it back to life or change it into a different use or purpose and basically take ownership and maintain it," he said.

Watson said some of the fields or playgrounds could be turned into community gardens.

The city would look at selling any playgrounds that were not taken over by community groups, he said.

It is hoped a draft report with recommendations can be presented to council by the end of the year.

Changing demographics

Saint John's population is continuing to get older, according to the 2011 census. (CBC)

The Play-SJ plan is taking into consideration the city’s changing demographics that show the province’s largest city is continuing to get older.

The 2011 census showed the median age in Saint John is now 41.9 years compared with 40.5 years in 2006.

Seniors represented 15.1 per cent of Saint John’s population in the latest census compared to 13.9 per cent of the population in the 2006 census.

Meanwhile, the number of children that could make use of the baseball diamonds and playgrounds is decreasing.

The 2011 census showed that children aged 14 and under now account for 16.4 per cent of the population.

Those changing demographics are not surprising to groups that once relied on large numbers of young people.

Vic Fitzgerald, the administrator of Saint John’s Little League, said there are new fewer than 600 children playing baseball in the city.

"At one time there was probably 3,000 kids enrolled in little league," he said.