November 22 - 29, 2006
By ANDY HART, The Hartford News Staff Writer
Anabela Xavier has fond memories of Forester Heights Park, which is tucked into a quiet area just north of Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford’s Southwest neighborhood.
“I used to play there when I was a kid. They had the Kennelly School picnic there and a T-ball league. There was a lot going on,” Xavier said at a meeting on the park’s future held last Saturday morning at Broadview Community Church.
Now grown up and with two children of her own, Xavier was hoping they could enjoy Forester Heights Park as much as she did. But she said what she found there now was less than enjoyable: “broken glass, graffiti, condoms of every color.” She said she takes her kids to other parks now but would like to see Forester Heights Park make a come-back.
City Councilman Jim Boucher, who called last Saturday’s meeting, said Mayor Eddie Perez told him that the City is willing to fund a renovation of the park but only if residents in the surrounding neighborhood show a commitment to use and support it.
To that end, Boucher and Xavier are asking all interested persons to attend a meeting about the park at 6 pm on Wednesday, January 17, at Kennelly School on White St.
Boucher said the optimum outcome of the meeting would be the formation of a “Friends of Forester Heights Park” group which would meet regularly to promote and maintain the park. Many of Hartford’s larger parks, such as Keney and Goodwin, have “Friends of...” groups and representatives from some of those groups will be invited to the meeting in January.
A heavy turn-out at the meeting in January would be a good way to persuade the City to invest in renovating the park, said Boucher. “If we [the City] invest in the park but there isn’t a good level of activity there, it will slip back into disrepair,” he said.
Gene Mayfield, who has lived in the Forester Heights area since 1960, said demographics are mainly to blame for the park’s decline. “This is a good neighborhood. People don’t move out of this neighborhood, they just get old and their kids grow up and move away.”
With fewer youngsters around, use of the park declined and it became home to what Mayfield and Xavier described as a “bad element,” who use the park for drinking and other illegal activities.
Now, Mayfield said, the demographics are swinging back the other way and there are more and more children in the area, but the park remains under-used.
Xavier said this is because, “Most parents don’t allow their kids to play in the park because of what goes on there. They’re afraid.”
Mayfield said, “The neighborhood has to take control of the park, not the bad element.”
Boucher said that a renovation of the park might spur new interest and increased use. He said the Depart¬ment of Public Works has come up with a cost estimate on renovating the park. This estimate includes $150,000 - $300,000 for a new playscape; $140,000 - $225,000 for a new spray pool; $50,000 to resurface the basketball court and put up new hoops; and lesser charges for new benches, water fountains, grills and fencing.
Anyone interested in joining the “Friends of Forester Heights Park” is asked to call Anabela Xavier at 953-8657.