Local Parks to See Improvements
By HEATHER HADDON
While warmer weather is just beginning to draw residents back into local green spaces, behind-the-scenes efforts to improve parks have been spearheaded by park advocates over the last year. Successful fund-raising efforts are finally flowering into capital improvements at some parks this season, and negotiations are under way at others. In a two-part series, the Norwood News chronicled ongoing and coming improvements at several local parks. In this issue, we look at St. James and Poe parks in North Fordham.
St. James Park House Renovations Two projects are coming to a head at the sprawling St. James Park, following the efforts of advocates.
"It's huge," said Santiago "Cat" Milland of the Friends of St. James Park, a volunteer group. "Lots of effort has gone into this."
Renovations to the park house on the Jerome Avenue side of the park began last May, and should be finished by summer. The nearly $1 million in enhancements will make bathrooms available to the public, even when the main recreation center is closed, by putting them on the outside of the building. "This is a major improvement," said Bronx Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski.
An expansion of the park house's main floor will accommodate a large community room. The space will have glass doors that look out onto the park. St. James' Recreation Center, which occupies a building in the southern section of the park, will use the room for additional programming. But it will also be open to community groups like the Friends, according to Lewandowski. The building's basement is also being repaired, for use by Parks maintenance staff for the district.
The Friends played a central role in fundraising for the project. They drew up a detailed wish list for the building after gathering community input. This blueprint helped them to net a federal grant from the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program in 2000, and their application was the only one to be fully funded, according to Milland. The $300,000 grant was matched by then Council Member Adolfo Carrion, and Carrion gave additional monies as borough president.
Lewandowski is also looking forward to another St. James project. Through nearly $500,000 allocated by Parks, the middle steps near Creston Avenue will be repaired. "It's a beautiful old staircase," she said.
The once attractive double stairway has been crumbling for years, exposing park users to potentially dangerous loose surfaces. The stairs and the upper and lower landing will be resurfaced with flagstone. New wrought-iron fencing will be installed, and landscaping added around the sides. Work should begin by mid-June, according to Lewandowski.
The Friends hope to extend the St. James renewal to other sorely neglected areas of the park. They continue to campaign for $2 million in capital improvements for the park's fencing, walls and pathways. The old stone walls surrounding the park are crumbling, the pathways are uneven, and a staircase on the northeast side is off limits.
"It's dangerous," said Anthony Martinez of Partnership for Parks, a city parks group. "We've been worried about it for years."
Lewandowski wouldn't say whether or not a $2 million push is realistic, but she did praise the groundwork laid by the Friends. "They did a very good thing," she said. "It's a very useful document to begin talking with elected officials to put money in the park."
More Improvements for Poe Park Poe Park advocates are on a roll. Monies for two specific projects - renovation of the park's bandstand and the creation a digital visitors center - are falling into place for the North Fordham green space, according to Pat Logan of Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation (FBHC), a local nonprofit that has led efforts to rehabilitate the park. "It's great news," Logan said.
Poe's bandstand, built in 1925, is the first capital improvement slated to proceed. The $200,000 is now in place for a variety of renovations, including a power source for concerts and lights in the evenings, new steps, and decorative additions and restoration. "It's a great structure, but it needs significant work," Logan said. "We're going to make sure it's in good shape for years to come."
Monies came from a variety of sources, including Council Member Joel Rivera, Assemblyman Jose Rivera, and allocations to Parks from the city. These were used to match a state grant from the Clean Air/Clean Water Program, which FBHC secured a few years ago. The group also received a small grant from the J.M. Kaplan fund.
The work is scheduled to begin by late summer. "The [Parks] design people are all done with the scope of work, and it just needs approval," Logan said.
The bandstand project is just the latest of FBHC's efforts to transform Poe. Phase One of its plans was completed in 2001 with new pathways, benches, fencing, lighting and sod. In Phase Two, advocates hope to build a digital visitors center focused on the park's history and poet Edgar Allan Poe, whose house is now a museum inside the park. The project would also include new bathrooms to replace those that have been out of commission since the 1980s.
Fund-raising for the project, the cost of which is estimated at $2 million, has extended over six years. But with half of that already in the bank, it looks like the stars might align in 2004.
Both Joel Rivera and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion have promised roughly $500,000 of capital funding in the 2005 budget, according to Logan. "If both come through, and they said they will, it will be fully funded," Logan said.
If that does happen this year, FBHC can begin working with Parks on designs for the project. The center would be built over the old underground comfort station on the west side of the park. The basement would be used for storage and to house a Parks staff office.
"It will be so much better for the park to have the maintenance staff and [park] officers there," Logan said. "They would really have more of a presence in the park."
Poe Park Events
Easter Egg Hunt, April 10 from 10 a.m. to noon
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