Benson Park in Kensington South has seen better days.
Overgrown trees uproot sturdy metal grates, making the area a hazard for passers-by. The centrally located fountain sits unusable after scrappers gutted the fixture’s copper piping.
Drug addicts and dealers frequent the park in the evenings, and neighbors can’t keep them out — the fence that once allowed them to lock the park at night has disappeared, a victim to scrappers as well.
But, things could change. The park, located along the 1400 block of N. Lawrence St., is set for improvements thanks to the efforts of City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez’s office.
And, last week, residents said these improvements were a long time coming.
In fact, they claimed that a decade ago, $10,000 in state money had been set aside to refurbish the park, but the money never materialized.
“It’s been neglected by the city. The neighborhood never neglected it,” said Orlando Rosado, whose family has been tending to the park for the past 30 years. “They said they were giving us money, but they never did. They couldn’t have spent that $10,000 fixing the park. They never did anything.”
On Tuesday, Aug. 30, representatives from the councilwoman’s office, along with representatives from the Kensington South Neighborhood Advisory Committee, met with neighbors to discuss how the park could be improved to better serve the community.
“There were rumors that there were talks to sell the park,” said Justin DiBerardinis, on hand representing the 7th District councilwoman’s office during the meeting. “That’s not going to happen. She’s committed and she’s not going to let that happen.”
Instead, organizers listed neighborhood concerns and tried to offer solutions. Problems like the non-functioning fountain, the lack of adequate fencing and a more resident friendly handball court — currently, walls of neighbors’ homes are used — were discussed.
Also, residents wanted to see parking areas returned to one side of the park that had traditionally been used by residents along narrow Leithgow Street. Other proposed fixes included repairing grates damaged by growing trees.
To create a better handball court, a new wall would have to be created to keep players from smacking the ball against the home of Joann Frazier. That was the biggest construction element proposed last week.
“When I watch TV, I hear it — bang, bang, bang,” she said. “It knocks the stuff off my wall. Otherwise, I don’t mind that sound outside with the kids playing.”
And the kids do play.
As Rosado toured the space last week, about 20 children played in the park, some roughhousing in the grass yard and others playing handball.
DiBerardinis said funds for the upgrades would come from the councilwoman’s capital budget. And while he couldn’t provide a total for funding because various elements would still need to be detailed, he said the funds would likely add up to more than the vanishing $10,000 neighbors claimed was never delivered.
However, he couldn’t comment on where that money might have gone or if it was truly ever promised.
“That was before we were here,” he said.
The area could see repairs in about six months to a year.
“We used to do a lot of activities in the park, but we really can’t anymore,” said Rosado as he carefully stepped through the pushed up grating near the trees.
He said this uneven surface makes the park hard to navigate for seniors and unsafe for children.
And without a gate to lock, unsavory characters can be found roaming the small park at night.
“There used to be a fence here,” he said, pointing at an area where poles had once stood in the concrete. “But they [scrap thieves] took the whole thing — the whole fence. They came in at night. We didn’t hear a thing.”
Still, the community takes pride in the park.
Bob Adams lives nearby and said he often mows the grass in the park. The Rosado family still maintains the entire park, picking up trash and weeds regularly.
But for too long, residents said they have been the only ones who cared about the space.
“Someone once came down here from Parks and Rec and told us this park was never even on their radar,” said Adams.
The KSNAC plans to hold an additional meeting on the future of the park on Tuesday, Oct. 18. It’s tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Drueding Center, 413 W. Master St. More information will be on their web site at www.KSNAC.org when it is available for the time and location of the meeting.••
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org