Funds Finally Flow to Oval Park
By HEATHER HADDON
After a long dry spell, money for renovations to Williamsbridge Oval Park is in the pipeline, after $450,000 was secured last week in the city's 2005 capital budget.
Council Member Oliver Koppell allocated the funds to complete three improvements to the Norwood park: construction of a new playground on the park's south side, landscaping the banks immediately behind the existing west-side playgrounds, and repairs to deteriorating sections of the wrought-iron fence surrounding the Oval.
"It was my highest priority in terms of parks projects," Koppell said. "I'm very pleased."
Annette Porter, a member of the Mosholu Woodlawn Community South Coalition, which lobbied Koppell for the renovations, was also thrilled. "I'm delighted," said Porter, who lives across from the Oval. "The park is such an important community resource."
The Coalition, in conjunction with Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation (FBHC), drew up plans that advocated for the capital improvements as an important start to rehabbing the entire Oval. They submitted them to Koppell last winter.
Park advocates were disappointed when Koppell was unable to secure Oval funding the previous two years. In another blow, an allocation in 2001 by former Council Member June Eisland to renovate the park's northern end never materialized.
Koppell was confident that the new money would translate into improvements. "I'm going to ask the Parks Department to do it [the renovations] as soon as possible," he said. The capital funds in 2001 disappeared because of the city's fiscal crisis, according to Koppell.
While the new infusion is promising, it's still not the $5 million that former Bronx Parks Commissioner Bill Castro once estimated was necessary to fully renovate the park. "Over time, the Oval has been neglected," Porter said. "Our hope is that fresh attention will be paid to the Oval and it will be seen as the treasure it is."
Meanwhile, funds have flowed steadily to Poe Park -- this year included. Council Member Joel Rivera appropriated $531,000 for a digital visitors center and comfort station for the North Fordham park, projects that FBHC has long lobbied for. Rivera also obtained funds for the Bronx Zoo, Jerome Park, and the Bronx River greenway. "We did pretty well again," said Rivera, who benefits from his leverage as the Council's majority leader.
Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión also promised to pitch in $500,000 for the digital visitors center, according to Pat Logan, who manages FBHC's park initiatives. With those two amounts appropriated, Fordham Bedford will have secured the $2 million necessary for the Parks Department to begin construction on the project. "This should really guarantee that things go forward," Logan said.
Additionally, renovations to Poe's historic bandstand should begin at the end of this summer, according to Logan.
Unfortunately, Council Member Maria Baez didn't do as well for St. James, Devoe or Aqueduct parks. While lobbying for six parks in her district, she only received funds for two -- Davidson and Mount Hope playgrounds. Baez emphasized that she previously succeeded in securing capital improvements for St. James and Devoe, which are now in construction.
But Santiago "Cat" Milland, president of the Friends of St. James Park, was disappointed. The Friends sent a detailed plan of capital improvements for St. James, such as repairs to the park's crumbling stone wall and stairways, to Baez' office earlier this year, but Milland said he still has not heard from her.
"These [are improvements] that have been needed for years," he said.
On the operations side, the Council restored a $7.3 million cut made in the mayor's expense budget to seasonal workers, gardeners and playground associates for parks. Additional money was added to tree pruning contracts, including $15,000 for the Bronx River Alliance.
School funding secured
Local Council members also netted funds for new equipment in local schools. Koppell made several allocations, including $100,000 for a jungle gym at PS 94's kindergarten annex, $40,000 for new computers at PS 280, and $100,000 for laptops in PS 340's classrooms and library.
Baez was also successful in securing funds of $100,000 for computer upgrades at MS 206. Rivera netted $75,000 for technology initiatives at PS 46.
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