City parks also up for improvements
By Jeff Simms
The Beacon City Council appears poised to approve a 17-week test run for an afterschool program that would provide daily care and activities for children at three elementary schools in Beacon.
Five of the six council members (Councilperson Peggy Ross was not there) verbally agreed to fund the program during a workshop Tuesday night. An official vote is expected at the council’s June 6 meeting.
If approved, the program will launch this September at South Avenue, J.V. Forrestal and Sargent elementary schools and run weekdays from 3:15 until 6 p.m. The schedule — which will be built around a daily theme, such as yoga, music, sports or cooking — will also include homework help and team activities for kids whose parents are busy during the day.
“I am thrilled about it and really grateful to the city for being willing to help the district in this way,” said Meredith Heuer, who attended Tuesday’s workshop and was elected to the Beacon City Board of Education last month. “I really hope we can expand this program to the middle and high school as soon as possible. It’s another opportunity to enrich students’ lives and help build lifelong learners.”
Conceived by Beacon Recreation Director Mark Price, the program will cost around $13 per day and is likely to include some structure for financial aid for those who need it. At a cost to the city of about $105,000 for a 17-week trial from September to December, the program will break even if a minimum of 35 children participate at each school.
“I’m very confident that we’re going to have ample children using the program,” Price said. “I can’t imagine it not.”
Online and written surveys taken in recent weeks showed overwhelming support from the community, he said.
Price estimates that the program should bring in around $115,133 against $104,763 in costs, which include hiring a full-time supervisor and part-time administrative assistant. If the program performs well, he’ll then ask the council to approve around $260,000 in funding for 2017 as well.
On Tuesday, the council members were vocal in their support of the program.
“I think it’s going to have a valuable benefit to the community at large,” said George Mansfield, who cited studies showing the positive impacts such programs have had on children and local economies. “That’s why I’m willing to take whatever minimal risk there is with taxpayer money.”
In time, Price said, the city could expand the program to include summer camps and other offerings, which would provide year-round revenue to further offset costs.
“It would be the perfect transition, I think, for the department,” he said, “to bring those kids in from the afterschool programs into summer programs. That’s the first expansion in my mind, once we have established programming.”
Parks projects coming
The recreation department is also gearing up for capital projects that will improve several Beacon parks.
Using $60,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds, along with approximately $36,000 from the city’s recreation budget, a new playground structure and pavilion will be installed at South Avenue Park this fall.
In addition, the basketball and tennis courts will be resurfaced at South Avenue, restroom facilities will be rehabbed at Memorial and Green Street parks, and a new pavilion will be added at Memorial Park, Price said. Those projects will be funded by the recreation budget, which is supported by fees for new development in Beacon.
The basketball and tennis courts, as well as the restroom rehabs, should be finished this month. The new Memorial Park pavilion is also scheduled for the fall.
“We have a 10-year plan for rehabbing what we have, and I’m hopeful to add some (new facilities) as well. It’s all getting better,” Price said.
He added that in time the city would like to create a “discoverable trail” of play areas at South Avenue, and hopefully this year’s grant award will create some momentum in that direction.
“This was the first time that we got a pretty good chunk of (grant) money for parks in my eight years here,” Price said. “I’m hopeful we can start this year and then continue to build and add a little more to it.”