The city is moving forward with plans to finish the $7 million overhaul of Rockwell Park by the summer of 2010.
Mayor Art Ward said the project is worth the money because of its contribution “to the betterment of the community.”
“With people taking fewer vacations and feeling the pressure of the econmy, we want to get the most utilization out of our park system,” the mayor said.
The final phase of the park renovation – the renovation and reopening of the long-drained lagoon – is the most costly item on the city’s list of proposed projects for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Taking care of the lagoon and aging bathhouse at the historic West End park will cost about $2.5 million, but it won’t include restoring the beach or making it possible for anyone to swim there again.
Park Director Ed Swicklas said there was no reasonable way to restore the swimming beach.
The new plan calls for extending the stone wall around the entire lagoon area and filling about half of it with more than 9 feet of water. The other half would be turned into a wetlands area that would allow visitors to view a swampy habitat and the creatures that live in one, including birds.
Rockwell Park, which is on the National Historic Register, was created almost a century ago to provide a place for working people to get out and enjoy nature in a rustic setting. For decades, it was one of the most thriving spots in town.
But during the past twenty years, it became increasingly forgotten and neglected. Its much-loved lagoon, which older residents remember as a summertime staple, was drained a decade ago after swimmers came down with a mysterious rash and health officials recommended the end to swimming there.
The problem generally is that development near the park has gradually dried up the sources of water that used to flow into the lagoon. Alternative sources, including the Pequabuck River, were too costly, officials said.
The initial part of the project improved parking lots, added a skatepark and made a new entrance on Park Street.
The second phase, which is underway, is putting in new playgrounds, a spray park, a new restroom and more.
The overall goal is to create a park that offers more parking, better walkways, much more lighting and other amenities aimed at pulling people back into the park and upping its safety.
In the end, “it’s affording more opportunity for more people” to use it, Ward said.
The project list that includes the Rockwell renovation has received the backing of a key committee and is likely to be included in the municipal budget tentatively slated for approval on June 4 at a joint session of the Board of Finance and City Council.
Rockwell Park at a glance
Created in 1911 as a gift from Albert and Nettie Rockwell, the 103 acres included Mrs. Rockwell’s Playground, a lagoon and trails through a rustic setting.
It proved an immediate hit with Bristol’s working families and became a summertime hangout for generations of the city’s young people.
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