NEW BEDFORD — As children ran up and down the basketball courts at Pine Hill Park Friday, Mayor Jon Mitchell was a little puzzled at why there were so many youngsters at the park at noontime on a school day.

But once he found out it was a half-day at Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech, the mayor's mind was more at ease, as he and city officials formally reopened Pine Hill Park to the public, after significant renovations and updates, including a basketball court, lighting, and added accessibility.

"This was a great team effort," Mayor Mitchell said. "For those who weren't familiar with Pine Hill Park--it's probably not a surprise you weren't familiar with it. It had been very run down over the years, and you could barely see it because things were grown over. It was something we all felt that the North End needed to see improvement on."

Mitchell said outgoing Ward 1 Councillor Jim Oliveira was the "prime mover" in getting the park a makeover.

"This was one of his swan songs as City Councillor," Mitchell said. "Jim did exactly what he should do for his ward, which was go to bat for things that were important to his ward. He really sold this project on me. It made a lot of sense in every way."

"This is a proud day, proud for the citizens of Ward 1, who really have deserved their parks to be improved upon," Oliveira said. "Pine Hill is just the beginning, as far as I'm concerned."

The park has a new lighting system that improves visibility and is equipped with a programmable system that allows for flexible year-round use. The updated basketball courts are high school regulation size, at 84x50 feet, and feature new backboards made right in New Bedford at True Bounce. Crews also spruced up the playground structures and swings. Work was performed by the New Bedford Department of Public Infrastructure, PJ Keating, PA Landers, Seguin Enterprises, True Bounce and JG Coffrey Co.

"It's presentable, it's inviting. That's the way we want our parks to be," the mayor said. "We want people to look at our parks, and feel like they're invited in to them, that they want to come in."

Mitchell said the improvements cost the city about $111,000, with money that largely came from Enviromental Protection Agency easement funds that were spread across the wards for different projects, as well as some free cash in what the mayor called "a good buy for taxpayers."

"I felt very strongly, as did Jim, that the North End, the far North End, particular Pine Hill Acres, deserved to have something like this," Mitchell said. "Kids from Pine Hill Acres in particular, as well as the housing developments just south of here, can walk here. It's good for all ages."

Oliveira said the median age of families in his ward is trending younger, as the older residents are selling their homes and moving to warmer climates. He said that means there are a lot of young families with two or three children under the age of 10 that can benefit from the upgraded park for years to come. Oliveira said the work put into Pine Hill Park is already showing dividends.

"Since these particular basketball courts have been opened, they've been jamming, absolutely jamming," he said. "I've come by numerous evenings and the parking lot is full, two full-court games are going on, and people are on the sidelines waiting to play. That's how vibrant it is."

Oliveira noted that parks have been his "pet project," with Pine Hill the first one that's been truly fixed up. He said River's End Park has already gone through one makeover but probably needs another, and that's not all.

"I'm hell-bent to see Pulaski Park fixed up, even if I'm not in office," said Oliveira, who is not seeking re-election next month.

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