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Tour reveals park projects in the city

Mayor Domenic Sarno, Park Commissioners Clodo Concepcion, Brian Santaniello, Therea Rodrigues and Patrick Sullivan, executive director of Parks, Buildings and Recreation, speak about the need to repair the dam in Van Horn Park.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Some of the needed improvements are obvious, such as correcting the sinkholes at the former Walsh playground, while others, like repairing the Van Horn Dam, aren't as obvious. Mayor Domenic Sarno saw both of these projects during a three-hour tour of six selected park sites on Sept. 8 with members of the Parks Commission.

Patrick Sullivan, executive director of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management, told Reminder Publications the mayor wanted to schedule another tour to take him to sites in Indian Orchard, Sixteen Acres and East Forest Park.

The purpose of the trip, Sullivan explained, was not only to show Sarno issues the department faces, but also to see improvements that have been completed.

The tour started at the Van Horn Dam. Sullivan explained the lake behind the earthen dam had been a reservoir for the city. In 1920 the property was transferred by the then Water Department to be used as a park.

Park Commissioner Brian Santaniello displayed a map that showed if the dam was breached how water would flow down hill into the emergency room area of Baystate Medical Center. He said the lake was 36 feet deep - as compared to Porter Lake in Forest Park, which is only six to eight feet deep.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) have rated the dam in "critical condition" and $1.5 million for repairs has been secured. Sullivan said the plans for the repairs, which include removing all the trees and their root balls on the dams as well as evaluating the condition of the overflow system, are currently under review by the state.

Sarno noted that Baystate Medical Center officials have told the city they intend to develop an 18-acre parcel that abuts the lower Van Horn Park property into a passive recreation area.

Sullivan said the tour continued to Walsh Playground on Freeman Terrace, which has been closed because of 10 to 12 foot wide craters due to sinkholes. The playground was built over a dump used in the 1920s and the decomposition of the trash there is causing the sinkholes. Sullivan explained a study is underway to determine how to repair the four-acre area, which he explained would include excavating the site, removing the trash, lining the site with a membrane, them refilling it and landscaping it. Once the study is complete the city would apply for a state Urban Self Help Grant.

The tour then made its way to the Marshall Roy Playground on St. James Boulevard. Sarno has asked the Park Commission to install a plaque at the recently renovated site calling attention to the roll the East Springfield Neighborhood Council played in the $630,000 worth of renovations.

Next were two sites for which the city has applied for Urban Self Help grants. Sullivan explained that normally the city has applied for one project at a time, but this year the mayor wanted both improvements at Johnny Appleseed Park on Hancock Street and the conversion of school property into a park at the Rebecca Johnson School in Mason Square.

The city is asking for a $250,000 grant for the Johnny Appleseed Park site at which it intends to build a new playground, install fencing and add other amenities. The city's share of the project, if the grant is approved, would be about $50,000.

At the Rebecca Johnson School site, Sullivan said the School Committee Building and Grounds Sub-committee has recommended the whole committee approve the transfer of the parcel of the school grounds from the School Department to the Parks Department. He said that vote should come sometime in October.

The project would build a playground, a walking track and a baseball diamond on the site. An outdoor classroom, similar to the one recently finished at the nearby Deberry School, would also be part of the project. Sullivan added the defunct rail line that runs through the area would be redeveloped.

The cost of that project is estimated at $800,000 with the city potentially receiving $500,000 of it.

The project has "received a lot of energy from the neighborhood," Sullivan said. He added that students at the school have undertaken a fundraising campaign.

The final project discussed was the Forest Park Dam. Sullivan said the earthen dam is the structure on which the roadway leading in and out of the park at its Sumner Avenue entrance is built. The dam underneath the road suffers from erosion and tree loss and may threaten the main entrance to the park, if not corrected, Sullivan said.

The park, which hosts one million visits a year, needs the dam to be fixed within the next year, Sullivan said. His department has prepared a package for the DCR, which is the state agency in charge of all dams in the Commonwealth. He estimated the repairs would cost around $300,000.