Better lighting will be installed in some city-owned parks and playgrounds to try to reduce vandalism and other criminal activity.
The Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency voted Thursday to use nearly $200,000 in federal anti-poverty grants to finance improvements in a number of parks.
The most costly project will involve upgrades at the Roosevelt Park field house in the Bailey-Kensington neighborhood. The agency authorized nearly $167,000 for building improvements that will include security lighting, glass block windows, roof repairs and upgrades to the heating and plumbing systems.
"There's a very serious hangout and crime problem there," said agency member Dominic J. Bonifacio, referring to the facility near Roosevelt Avenue and Suffolk Street.
A block club leader who has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years said the funding will help turn an unused structure into a community meeting place where youth activities can be held.
"We have to get our youth involved before the streets do," said Jennie Isome, vice president of the Roosevelt Avenue Block Club. "You know what they say: 'An idle mind is the devil's playground.' "
Some interior repairs are under way in the field house and are being paid for with funds secured by University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell, Isome said.
Bonifacio, a former Common Council majority leader, said he recalled dealing with problems at the site during his eight-year stint on the Council. He retired three years ago.
"Most of the buildings in our parks have been vandalized -- broken into," Bonifacio lamented.
The agency approved funding for new security lighting at various city-owned recreation facilities, including Martin Luther King Park, the Rees-Allison Pool and playgrounds in different neighborhoods.
Some of the lighting will be tied to motion sensors to make it easier for roving police officers to detect late-night activities.
The Roosevelt Park field house has long been a source of concern among many University District residents. City officials said it was built in the 1940s to house equipment for an ice rink that no longer exists.
Francisco Guzman, an Urban Renewal Agency engineer, said the planned improvements will enhance security around the Roosevelt Park building.
"Short of making it look like a prison, we're trying to renovate it to the best of our ability," Guzman told agency members.
When the upgrades are finished, Guzman said, the facility will be used by neighborhood residents for various events.
Why is the city using federal anti-poverty funds to improve parks and playgrounds?
Finance Commissioner Janet Penksa said Buffalo's capital budget is "limited." She said federal block grants can be used for the parks projects because the facilities are widely used by low- and moderate-income residents. She said upgraded parks and playgrounds enhance quality of life for these residents.
In a separate action, the agency approved more than $49,000 to expand ongoing improvement projects at a number of community centers throughout the city.