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Former Balliet school grounds to be neighborhood park

Date: 5/24/2011

May 23, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD — City officials announced on May 19 that the grounds of the former Balliet Middle School, 111 Seymour Ave., will be transformed into a neighborhood park.

Mayor Domenic Sarno and City Councilor Clodo Concepcion told about 30 residents gathered for the announcement that efforts will begin to move the property to the jurisdiction of the Parks Commission as well as seeking funding for the improvements.

Although there are some recreational elements on the property such as a wall for handball and a baseball diamond, the plans include a new playground area, improvements to the baseball diamond, new tennis courts, art installations, a splash park, drinking fountains, benches and picnic tables.

To improve security, there would be additional lighting for the area.

The school building, now being used as one of the city's Springfield Academy for Excellence schools, would also be used in the plan for neighborhood use.

Concepcion said that since residents asked him to work on the project about two months ago, there has been some painting work done as well as some landscaping.

He promised he would do for Pine Point what he had done for Sixteen Acres, where he had spearheaded the effort to renovate the community center there.

Sarno said a "hallmark of his administration has been to create more green space." He noted there have been improvements made at Treetop Park, Leonardo da Vinci Park and a new park area at the Rebecca M. Johnson School.

Although no official would quote a price tag for the renovations, Sarno said he has instructed Patrick Sullivan, the executive director of the Department of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management, to apply for Urban Self Help grants for the 2012 cycle to fund the project. Sarno added Sullivan would also seek private donations and his administration would look to "fill gaps" with city funding.

Currently, Sarno said the city is looking for private donations for the new senior center project, as well as the renovations for Camp Star/Angelina and the Environment Center for Our Schools.

Sarno said the park would be a collaboration that would include the Police Department, the School Department and the Hampden County Sheriff's Department. He added the labor supplied by Sheriff Michael Ashe to city projects has saved Springfield millions of dollars.

Richard Devine of the Sheriff's Department explained he has grown up in the Pine Point neighborhood just several streets away from the former Balliet School.

"These are the things that bring back neighborhoods," he said.

James Aubin, the president of the Pine Point Neighborhood Council, asserted that with the improvements, the residents would "finally use it without the fear of the bad guys, so to speak."

Tied into the park development is an effort to recruit the neighborhood's residents into the Pine Point Improvement League. Sponsored by the Police and Sheriff's departments, the group meets at the Our Lady of Sacred Heart Parish Center, 51 Rosewell St., from 6 to 7 p.m. on the second Monday of the month to discuss neighborhood issues and to seek solutions.

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