“We were the only game people could attend”
WORCESTER — On a recent afternoon, Robert C. Antonelli Jr. stood at the entrance to a construction site not far from the Peanut of Kelley Square, but it had nothing to do with the Canal District or the polar park.
Antonelli, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Public Works and Parks, stood just inside a temporary chain-link fence in Crompton Park, against a backdrop of gravel, cement formwork and the odd timber frame steel and wood that, when completed this summer, will be the city’s second skatepark.
Carlos Lopez lives just opposite Crompton Park and goes there every day to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere and the friendly neighbors who always greet each other.
As a skateboarding enthusiast, Lopez is excited about the upcoming skate park which will be completed this summer.
“Billiards, baseball, tennis, basketball and now a skateboard park. It’s good,” Lopez, 50, said.
The skate park is just one of many new park features going live this year in the city’s network of parks and open spaces, which has seen a marked increase in usage since the pandemic began. of COVID-19.
“What we discovered throughout COVID was that for a while we were the only game people could go to,” Antonelli said. “No one was traveling. We’ve seen it in our park trash pickups, we’ve seen it in general use and we’ve seen that use grow – instead of seeing the most 10 a.m. traffic at dusk we started to see it spread out at 6 at dusk.We had all these people leaving early in the morning.We were struggling to get the grass mowed.
In a broader sense, it reaffirmed the notion that parks and open spaces are an important component of the “quality of life” of city life, Antonelli said. He credited City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. with realizing even before the pandemic that pouring resources into parks — more than $90 million over eight years — benefits the entire community.
Coes, Columbus Park, Hope Cemetery
The skate park should be finished this summer, weather permitting, Antonelli said, but he added that residents will notice a few other big projects in city parks coming to fruition even sooner.
Coes Reservoir has benefited from improvements to beach facilities along Mill Street in recent years and this year another phase of this project will come online in June, in time for a July 1 opening. A new boat ramp for canoes and kayaks is being installed next to the newly renovated bathhouse.
Across the reservoir, an elevated promenade in the Columbus Park neighborhood that follows the shoreline from the Lakeside Apartments to the Knights of Columbus is also nearing completion. The $2.2 million project is also slated for a July opening, Antonelli said.
Antonelli said Hope Cemetery isn’t technically considered one of the city’s 61 parks, but is under the park department and is also undergoing improvements. It is considered a garden, or park-like cemetery, and a new gate system should improve after-hours security, he said. The main entrance from Webster Street will have replica wrought iron gates that will be locked at night and the rear entrance from New York Street will have a vehicle sensor and a door with a punched code to provide quick emergency access. Cameras will also be installed at the entrances, he said.
Not this summer, but soon
Several other park projects are in various stages of design or construction, Antonelli said. The city’s first American Rescue Plan Act-funded park project at Grant Square Park is in the process of awarding contracts and work is expected to begin in early May. Community gardens, new playground safety surfacing and lighted basketball courts are on the agenda at the park nestled on Mount Vernon Street, near the city’s flagship park on Green Hill.
Work will soon begin on the softball field at Indian Hill Park near the former Salter Secretarial School and the city has begun design work on a number of other ARPA-funded projects, including features and planned upgrades to Tacoma Street Playground, Bell Hill and Vernon Hill, as well as engineering upgrades to Salisbury Pond that will better contain sediment flowing into the Institut Park water feature. South Worcester Playground is also to have new handball and basketball courts; this project is in the design phase, said Antonelli.
Back at Crompton Park, Antonelli explained how the city had specified that they wanted a dedicated skate park builder to do the job and he said that Arizona-based Pillar Design always sends staff to inspect the work done. by Artisan Skateparks, another nationally recognized company. It was important that the new facility was built by companies that knew what skaters wanted.
“That’s what they do,” Antonelli said. “That’s all they do.”
Accessibility is a major focus of every new park component now built in the city, and Antonelli said the skate park will use a subtle ramp system to allow full access for people with limited mobility. That was also a factor when developing the concept for the Columbus Park improvements, Antonelli said.
“Whether it’s skate parks, dog parks or boardwalks, designing them in an accessible way allows people to go places they’ve never been able to go,” Antonelli said.
Controversy leads to compromise
Crompton skate park and Columbus park improvements are the result of controversy and tension. The skate park was sped up following public outcry over the city demolition of the Worcide DIY skate park, not far from what became the outdoor ground of Polar Park. And residents of Lakeside Apartments cried foul when they learned that the Columbus Park boardwalk project included the demolition of Hillside Beach. They argued the money would have been better spent restoring and outfitting the beach, but the city insisted the long-closed beach for swimming was a safety hazard for a number of reasons.
But the dispute over the management of city parks is certainly nothing new. In fact, Crompton Park itself grew out of a push in the late 1800s by the largely working-class residents of the city’s East Side to get the city to develop more playground-type parks. games. They argued at the time that the parks on the west side of the city – namely Elm Park – maintained an air of exclusivity and limited their use.
Antonelli said that was why it was important that the skate park be done well. He said there was a bit of everything from grind rails to traditional bowls and the street course style section. Large steel structures resembling leafless trees around the corner of the park will have “shade sails” installed on them to give skaters respite from the heat.
Not everyone originally involved with Worcide DIY was happy with how it all turned out, but Antonelli said a number of people said they were delighted with the new opening. skate park.
“Ultimately, it’s really going to be a mix of what we could adapt, what audiences wanted, and variety,” Antonelli said.
Crompton Park is just one of 61 parks and playgrounds in the city and this does not include Greater Worcester Land Trust holdings and conservation restrictions in the city, such as the Cascades, Crow Hill and Kettle Brook .
To be involved
The land trust is also one of the co-holders of the conservation restriction which covers the more than 500 acres of Green Hill Park. Brian P. McCarthy is president of the Green Hill Park Coalition, another co-holder of this conservation restriction.
McCarthy said he grew up next to Green Hill Park, which essentially became an extension of his garden.
“That’s where I played sports, we swam, we ran in the park, we picked blueberries in the park,” McCarthy said.
He has since left the neighborhood, but the house remains with his family and he remains heavily involved in the coalition. He said he got involved in protecting the park when the city offered to locate a landfill in the park where it could dump street sweepers.
“We fought that one until the end,” McCarthy said.
He said the park had changed drastically under Antonelli and Augustus’ watch — it’s never been in better shape, he said, and it’s never been busier.
“Any time of the day now there are car parks and people walking around. It’s nice to see,” McCarthy said.
Many city parks have “friends of” groups that help with maintenance and work with the city on projects, but the Green Hill Park Coalition is one of the more established formal organizations. Asked to offer advice to anyone looking to get involved, McCarthy said it was simple.
“For me, the beginning of Green Hill Park maintenance was picking up litter, going in with a trash bag picking up litter,” McCarthy said. “Everyone in every neighborhood with every park can do just that. Don’t assume anyone else is going to do it. Do it.”
He said the city was generally supportive when it came to working with the coalition. He said, “Your imagination is your only limit up there,” and Antonelli is ready to work with residents on various initiatives.
Antonelli said part of the involvement is actually getting out to see all the city has to offer with its park system.
“Don’t stay in your neighborhood, number one,” Antonelli said. “If you live on the West Side, go to the East Side. It varies wildly. We have a waterfall in Worcester, the Cascades. We have three dog parks. We already have a skate park in Green Hill Park – it’s our number two.”
He said the city’s website has master plans and general descriptions for nearly every park in the city, but the best thing people can do is just get outside. There are residents who have lived here all their lives and don’t know what else is there.
“I would say just explore,” Antonelli said.
Staff reporter Nicole Shih contributed to this report.