MANCHESTER — The city should reverse its decision to close Bronstein Park during school hours, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union wrote in an email Friday to Mayor Ted Gatsas and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Gilles Bissonette, staff attorney for the NHCLU, wrote that Gatsas’ decision to limit the park to students, employees and parents affiliated with Manchester High School Central from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. during school days “could be constitutionally problematic.”
He called his position “preliminary” and said he would provide the city with a formal opinion should he form one.The email was provided to the New Hampshire Union Leader by Alderman Joseph Kelley Levasseur, who has opposed closing the park during school hours because the move would be ineffective and deprive the public of free use of a city park.
Gatsas, in a memo to aldermen on Thursday, said the city would be enforcing the new rules beginning Monday and could have signs up by this weekend.
City officials have said the park is a favorite spot of users of the synthetic drug spice and has been the scene of numerous overdoses of the drug. They also said people lounging at the park and on benches have posed problems for maintenance workers, including refusing to move so workers can cut grass.
Gatsas said Friday night that the city would be enforcing the rules as planned, despite Bissonette’s objection.
“It is clear that my efforts are to ensure students are as safe as possible while in school,” Gatsas said. “How do you not enforce the rules when it pertains to the safety of children?”
Gatsas has cited a transfer agreement dating to the late 1960s, when the city was given the space by Amoskeag Industries, that the city had the authority to limit the park’s use.
Bissonnette wrote that a court may rule that the agreement is immaterial and question whether the city “can simply transform the park from a public forum to a nonpublic forum.”
“Despite what documents say from the late 1960s (which I admittedly have not read), that may not be the case because, at the end of the day, Bronstein Park is still a park — it looks like a park and it will be open to the public in the mornings and late afternoons,” Bissonette wrote.