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Committee backs funding for park work

The Olean Common Council's City Operations Committee on Tuesday agreed to support a $40,000 payment as the city's portion of grant-funded improvements in the three-acre Oak Hill Park that is the focal point of a 5.5-acre district that is listed in the state and federal registers of historic places.

The legislation was proposed by Linda Edstrom, Ward 4, and directs the funds to be moved from the contingency account into the Parks Department budget. The proposal will be considered by the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday and could see a Council vote the same night.

If it is approved, the city would be able to draw down another $100,000 from the state to move forward with a project that was first planned in 2004 and funded in 2005 but had to be set aside in 2006 because of the lack of matching funds. A second environmental grant of $48,560 was awarded in 2006 to upgrade a handicapped walkway, playground and recreational equipment.

Of primary concern is the replacement of a crumbling cement staircase, an iron railing and columns, which once served as an entrance into the park from Putnam Street on the south side. Crews have attempted to block off the staircase until the repairs could be made, but it remains a hazard. Officials considered scaling the project back to replace the staircase using local money, but the cost estimates were greater than the grant-funded work. And officials at one point even considered simply removing the staircase when it could not be replaced in the grant project.

The grant outlined upgrades to tennis courts and replacement of gazebos that were present in the park a century ago, along with handicapped sidewalk enhancements, lighting and safety fences to prevent accidents on the steeply sloping terrain. The aldermen agreed the safety upgrades should move the project forward.

Edstrom said despite warnings and fences, the staircase is still being used and the sidewalks have six- to eight-inch deep drop-offs on either side that are now covered with leaves.

Mayor David Carucci reminded the aldermen that the project and other items were part of his failed $1.2 million bond supplement request to his 2007-08 budget proposal. He said public works crews are prepared to begin work on the staircase before winter.

"I hate taking money out of the contingency, but it's been 2 1/2 years," he said, adding it is time the project was done.

The committee also agreed to send two other pieces of legislation to the Committee of the Whole:

* Transfer of $4,000 from the water contingency fund to cover costs of replacing a water line beneath the Stroehmann's parking lot while other water and sewer repairs were being carried out along several blocks of North Third Street.

* Installation of two parking meters north of Angee's Restaurant on the west side of North Union Street, one meter north of Delaney Chiropractic on the east side of North Union, two meters in front of 132-134 N. Barry St., one meter in front of 130 N. Barry and one meter in front of 124 N. Barry.

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