A new day celebrated at rue Goffe park

Napoleon Jenkins leaped from the sparkling bars of the Jungle Gymnasium, his feet landing on the spongy surface of the Goffe Street Park playground with a thud.

“It’s pretty good,” said the 8-year-old, smiling, testing the new surface, one of the many improvements to the park.

The occasion Sunday was billed as a ribbon cutting for the park’s new playground. With gusts blowing on painted scarecrows and leaves scattered in the air, it turned out to be “more of a harvest festival,” as neighborhood alder Jill Marks put it. , marking a range of new equipment in the park.

“This is to celebrate the completion, the generosity, of a four year effort to make our park a place of pride in this community, a safe place for family meals and birthday parties and fun. and fun for our children and families, ”she said. said, as the volunteers handed out free apples and pumpkins.

“The playground has new tarp and paint,” she told a crowd of around 125 including neighbors, elected officials, vendors and service providers, as well as a veritable army. of people in beige T-shirts bearing the acronym FOGSP, for the advocacy and stewardship group Friends of Goffe Street Park.

“There are four new picnic tables and grills for families to barbecue. There is the new splash pad. There is the new grass growing and the two trees that the city is planting to provide shade for the children. And it’s thanks to all of you, ”Marks said. The playground equipment was also repaired.

Marks called Pastor Donald Morris an “advocate for restoration”, leading an effort for park amenities, playground equipment and the construction of an outdoor amphitheater with a stage and pavilion, after a period of decline.

Marks said a meeting with Mary Brown early in her tenure inspired her to continue her work.

“She lives right across the street. She has been here for over 60 years. There were little kids setting on the floor having lunch, and Mary Brown said, “We’ve got to do something about it. We have to do better, ”Marks said.

In June 2017, the newly formed FOGSP was clearing the sidewalks of leaves, sweeping up debris from the basketball court and picking up litter. There were neighborhood parties, Christmas tree lights, holiday coat collections. There was the iron clatter of fiery games in the horseshoe pit, children perfecting their jumping shot on the basketball courts and rolling a soccer ball on the playgrounds.

Then came a grant of $ 217,595 from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) to fund exterior improvements. The works were about to start.

And then came the pandemic.

“Covid has brought a lot of uncertainties on how to move construction forward in a safe manner,” said the city’s chief landscape architect Katherine Jacobs. “We had national labor shortages and global supply chain issues that prevented us from moving construction forward on schedule that we wanted to bring to the community. “

Mayor Justin Elicker said the park was a triumph of collaboration and persistence.

“Things are always a little more complicated than any of us would like, and they take a little longer, but it takes organization, it takes community members working together.” , did he declare. (He was indirectly referring to a last minute protest by some park users against some of the plans. Click here for more.)

“The work this team has done to defend the neighborhood, for the park, to take ownership of the challenges, and that’s it all from cleaning up the trash to making sure the neighbors are heard on what they are doing. want in their park, it all helps this town go in the right direction, ”Elicker said.

He hailed city landscape architect Jacobs as an ‘unsung hero’, comparing his efforts to the quietly outsized impact of his predecessor Dave Moser, as well as outgoing Alder Marks.

“She may be retiring, but she’s not going anywhere,” he said.

New Haven State Representative Toni Walker delivered a similar refrain.

“We need to have family activities, places where families can have fun, have picnics, hang out, talk to each other and get to know their neighbors, and just have camaraderie. That’s what community is about, so thank you, Jill Marks, for recognizing that, ”she said.

Soon the crowd was migrating to the paddling pool for the dedication ceremony.

“Long story short, this lady started with me and never stopped, so we’re grateful to her,” Marks said of Mary Brown standing next to him.

“My kids would play in the park until 11pm or midnight,” said Brown, the aroma of roast chicken from Eat Up Catering floating in the air. “Now we’ve got it back. Now the kids can come and have a safe place and they don’t have to sit on the ground anymore, and mothers can bring their kids and not have to go to another park and not have to worry about the safety of their children.

Shahma Talton was helping paint a festive Goffe Street park banner near a chain link fence bordering Country Street.

“This park was dirty, people were smoking and drinking here,” he recalls, as stumps of Millie Grenough and Peace Singers filled the chill of the fall afternoon. “Now he feels family-oriented, community-oriented. We feel welcoming. “

Back in the playground, Napoleon Jenkins looked longingly at the paddling pool.

“I can’t wait for summer,” he said. “But I’m still going to play here whenever I can.”

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