City Honors School wants to return Fosdick Field to its campus as an athletic field and in the process create a public park.
A design for the 4 acres that would do just that will be unveiled Tuesday, as a foundation also announces a capital campaign that will start later in the summer to reacquire and reconstruct the vacant land now owned by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.
“I’ve talked to neighbors who were children and wept the day they ran the street through the middle of their park,” said William Kresse, City Honors’ principal.
“My father grew up down the street from here and spent a ton of time sledding on it or using this playfield with his brothers and sisters. There are aging Masten alums hanging on just to see this campus put back together. We will get this done and it is going to be one more thing where people say, ‘Wow, Buffalo really does things right.’ ”
The City Honors/Fosdick-Masten Park Foundation needs to raise $5 million through public and private sources. That’s based on a BMHA appraisal that concluded the property is worth $2.1 million, and design estimates that $2.9 million would be needed to create the all-weather athletic field.
School officials are also hopeful City Honors will get a first crack at buying the property before the land is publicly listed for sale. Discussions with BMHA officials are anticipated in the coming days.
The effort to restore Fosdick Field to its Frederick Law Olmsted-designed origins enjoys the support of a wide array of groups, from the Fruitbelt Coalition and Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Kaleida Health.
The field would be graded for use by physical education classes, soccer – at 330-feet-by-210-feet, it would be the size of a FIFA-approved small soccer field – and lacrosse, and for neighborhood recreation. A meandering pathway, natural slopes and a tree-lined setting are part of the design. Drop-off parking would be at Best Street and Michigan Avenue.
A 140-foot-long tunnel would also be built between the locker rooms and the field to allow students easy access.
The plan calls for the removal of Fosdick Street, introduced after the BMHA acquired the land in 1977 for $15,000 and put up public housing. It would no longer separate City Honors’ main entrance and the field.
The nearly $3 million cost for the field would also be for grading and drainage improvements, utility installation and removal, the all-weather field, a scoreboard, landscaping and other streetscape elements.
The proposed changes came after first talking to the community, Kresse said.
“We did a novel thing in designing this,” Kresse said. “We went and talked with our neighbors to see what their preferences were before we gave anything to our architects. Their big things were avoiding a ‘stadium feel’ to the complex and keeping the access open as it had been in the past.
“We also carefully studied the history of the land and what our essential practical needs were,” Kresse said. “We think the end result is a space that will add to the badly needed inventory of playfields in our city, but at the same time complement the aesthetics of this historic school building and our neighborhood.”
Kresse cited wide support for the project.
“The support has been incredible. Groups and organizations that do not always see eye-to-eye have been coming forward to say, ‘We agree on this. This is the right thing to do.’ People walk up to me on the street and say ‘This is a no-brainer; why would this not get done?’ ” Kresse said.
“I think a lot of people take this personally because they see it as another litmus test on whether we are going to make smart planning decisions in the new Buffalo.”
The field was part of a 10-acre park designed by Olmsted that was completed in 1887. Like many parks of its day, it was built where a city cemetery was – in this case, a burial ground for the impoverished in the 1800s.
Six of the acres were taken up by Masten Park High School in 1895, leaving the 4 acres in front of the school. The publlic housing units that were built there in 1977 were removed several years ago after falling into disarray.
City Honors underwent a $40 million renovation that was completed in 2009, the same year the white terra-cotta school buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Oscar Traynor, the landscape architect with Studio T3 Engineering who worked with civil engineer Andrew Terragnoli on the design, said he used Olmsted’s plan for the park, called Masten Place, as a guide. Changes were proposed due to Fosdick Field’s purpose as an athletic field as opposed to a play field, and for security and visibility concerns.
The mostly symmetrical design includes entryways at Best Street and Michigan Avenue, and East North Street and Michigan Avenue. The sports field would be centered with City Honors’ grand staircase.
Some residents in the neighborhood expressed support for the project.
“If that field is returned like it should be, it will enhance the quality of life for the residents and definitely the children of the Fruit Belt area,” said Ben Cashaw, president of the Fruitbelt Coalition. “Well have a beautiful green space where seniors can take a walk or children want to play ball.”
A virtual tour of the site and other information can be seen at restoreourfield.org.