Northeast Times

Reclaiming Kensington South's Benson Park

Com­munity groups are fo­cus­ing their ef­forts on re­fur­bish­ing a lost park along North Lawrence Street.

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 hmit­man@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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