Behind the Cornelia Warren pool is Fraser Field and the Treyjon Arsenault Memorial Basketball Courts. Chance Viles/American Journal

WESTBROOK — After three years and two denied grant applications, federal funds have been awarded to the city for renovations and additions to the Warren outdoor recreation area.

Financed by a $300,000 grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and another $300,000 in local matching funds, plans include adding a pickleball court, splash pad, natural playground, fencing and more lighting. The parking lot will be renovated and walking trails will be added.

Construction may possibly start this year, but major work will likely begin in 2020.

Phil Spiller has worked for three years to secure grant funding for improvements at the park. Behind him is the basketball court and the swimming pool. Chance Viles/American Journal

The project began in 2016, when resident Phil Spiller worked on a committee to improve the basketball court at the park, an effort started by high school student Derek Bruenig in memory of Treyjon Arsenault, a local teen who was murdered in 2015. During the process, Spiller looked into how the park was initially funded and found that the federal grant program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, paid for it and three other areas in the city.

“I then saw that these funds could be used to renovate existing areas, not just make them, Spiller said. “This park is a hidden gem of Westbrook, but it is a tired area. It has a poor entrance, lack of lighting, but there is so much potential.”

With the information on the existing sites and the fact that Westbrook hadn’t secured money from the Land and Water fund in over 30 years, Spiller asked for money for renovations in 2016, but was denied due to fund regulations.

“The fund has things you need, which is signage about the fund which we did not have, but you also have to keep those other federally funded locations, in our case, there were four, but two no longer really existed,” Spiller said.

In addition to the East Bridge Street/Constitution Drive recreation area, the two other sites were tennis courts at the Pride’s Corner and Saccarappa schools. One tennis court was paved over, while the other is no longer part of the program. 

In order to get around that, a city can designate replacement locations of equal or greater value for the fund. One proposed replacement location is a park set to be built behind the Community Center, and another substitute would be a park behind the middle school. These locations are still being planned.

“We were denied again in 2017, despite our ask being the second highest ranked,” Spiller said. “However, they told us if we made progress on catching up to regulations, we would be automatically at the top of the list the following year.”

“With the assistance of City Administrator Jerre Bryant, City Planner Jennie Franceschi, City Engineer Eric Dudley, and local landscape architect Peter Burke – we moved swiftly to begin correcting these issues – and became determined to continue applying for these grant funds until successful,” Spiller said.

After working to designate two other locations in place of the tennis courts and the addition of signage at the Cornelia Warren Pool, the city was awarded federal funds of $200,000. In previous years, $300,00 had been awarded to others, so Spiller asked for more.

“I just asked about the larger number, being a little greedy, but it was awarded to us,” Spiller said. “That extra money would do a lot for the park.”

Phil Spiller talks about the removal of invasive species from the riverbank, next to the boy and dog statue. Chance Viles/American Journal

Sources of the $300,000 in matching funds include the Cornelia Warren Community Association, Westbrook Recreation and Conservation Committee, the Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corporation and the Community Improvement Plan.

“We are going to see a lot of exciting changes coming,” Spiller said.

On top of the additions and renovations, invasive plant species will be removed along the riverbank, opening up the view of the river.

Two entrances, a pedestrian entrance over the Black Bridge off Brown Street and the entrance by the old Sappi mill parking lot, will be improved. The main entrance off Main Street will be repaved and have better signage.

Portland Trails, a non-profit, will help with the installation on a number of trails in the park that will connect it to a the larger River Walk as well as other parts of the city.

“The hope is that this hidden gem of a park will turn into something much greater,” Spiller said.

While the overall picture of how the park will play into the cities development is still at work, Spiller sees a future where the park is connected by the existing railway to the developments elsewhere in town, such as Rock Row.

“Those are conversations we are having now and will see about, but there is so much potential,” Spiller said.

“I come here two days a week, I am excited to see the change,” Westbrook youth Fabrice Rugomana said. “I like to play basketball and swim here, I come almost every weekend.”

 


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