RENSSELAER — “This is the prize.”
That’s how Rensselaer Mayor Steve Wood summed up the accomplishments of the Parks for People campaign, and monetary and in-kind donors to complete Phase 1 of the city’s parks project.
The project, which collected nearly $1.5 million in donations and grants over the past four years, has created more recreational opportunities for people of the community, particularly youth.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony at the old Monnett School site, now called Foundation Park, was held Wednesday afternoon. Joining Wood were members of the Greater Rensselaer Chamber of Commerce, donors from nearby companies and Parks for People representatives.
“We overcame a lot of challenges,” Wood said. “This has been a dream come true for me. I want to thank all those donors who helped make it a reality.”
The park features an outdoor basketball court, a fitness area with equipment, a pavilion, new playground equipment and soccer fields. Staddon Field will get an upgrade and Rensselaer Parts Department superintendent Joe Effinger said the park now features 1,700 feet of blacktop for a walking path.
“We have a nice, long trail through the park,” Effinger said. “And Brookside has trails, also.”
Effinger first began discussing the construction of youth ball fields at Brookside more than five years ago. But with the help of donors, the parks now feature much more.
“My goal was the (baseball) complex,” Effinger said. “What has been done on top of that, it’s just incredible. I never thought we’d get to this point.”
Superintendent of the parks for 28 years and another 10 years prior to that in a part-time role, Effinger said the parks project is biggest one he’s been involved with.
“We put in new playground equipment around 20 years ago,” he said. “We updated the pool system around that time. But this isn’t just one thing we’re doing. This is three major things all at once. I’m excited for all of this.”
Stace Pickering, of the Parks for People, said Wednesday’s ceremony completes Phase 1 of upgrading recreational parks in the city. It also includes the addition of a dog park on Bunkum Road, which was one of the first items of Phase 1.
Phase 2 will include the completion of four ball fields at the Blacker complex in Brookside Park. A ribbon-cutting to punctuate the end of Phase 2 will likely be held later this summer.
“Phase 3 will include more stuff here (at Foundation Park) and Brookside,” Pickering said. “We may even get to a Phase 4 depending on the finances.”
Parks department program director Heather Hall thanked all donors, including those who volunteered their time to spruce up the parks.
She recognized one young volunteer member, Emily Pickering, who planted flowers at Foundation and Brookside parks.
“We need to include our youth so that’s it’s sustainable for the future,” Hall said. “Em is a young person who loves where she lives and we appreciate that.”
When school was in session, the younger Pickering would come home from practice and head to the parks to plant flowers.
“It was a fun thing to do,” Pickering said. “I think it all looks really good, especially when Brookside is finished.”