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State funding eyed for Schenectady parks projects

State funding eyed for Schenectady parks projects

Another try for miSci project that was not selected last year
State funding eyed for Schenectady parks projects
A creek that runs through Vale Park.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

Schenectady’s Museum of Innovation and Science is hoping once again to secure state funding in an effort to expand its programming into nearby Vale Park.

The museum is seeking a $500,000 state grant through the annual Regional Economic Development Council awards, which would go toward the Vale Park Education and Conservancy Trail project. The effort would allow miSci to offer hands-on programming focused on the environment and natural science, and expand access to the park.

“It’s a neat habitat over there,” said William “Mac” Sudduth, president of miSci.

The museum, one of two park-based projects in the city hoping to secure state funding later this year, applied last year for $1 million for the project, but was not selected for funding. The city is also hoping to earn state money to improve Jerry Burrell Unity Park in Hamilton Hill. Both proposals were discussed at Monday night’s council meeting.

MiSci, at 15 Nott Terrace Heights, shares a property line with Vale Park. Beyond the building’s fence, there is a steep slope that connects with a pond in the park, Sudduth said.

The plan is to develop a nature trail that starts at miSci, leads down the hillside to the pond and to a nearby observation deck. That trail would then connect with the rest of the park, creating opportunities for wildlife studies, water quality sampling, snowshoeing and more, depending on the season.

“We’ve been fairly heavy in physics and technology, and wanted to get into natural science, so we added the butterflies,” Sudduth said. “It’s so nice here in the summer we’d like to get people outdoors.”

Museum staff would work with scientific experts to catalog the types of plant and wildlife in the park before offering classes and programs, Sudduth said. He suggested potential classes could include animal tracking or studying invasive species vs. native species, he said.

The portion of the park being considered for the trail is not currently accessible to the public, Sudduth said. It is blocked on one side of the park by a water feature, and the only way into the park from the other side is through the miSci property.

MiSci won’t know if it won the grant until December, Sudduth said, meaning construction wouldn’t get underway until early 2018 at the soonest.

The money would go toward installing smart lighting in the park, and constructing handicap accessible walking paths, a water feature, public restrooms and a pavilion that doubles as an outdoor classroom.

The museum is collaborating on the project with the city and the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, and would be on the hook for a 25 percent match, plus any additional require money. When finished, the price tag could be close to $1 million, Sudduth said.

The rules of the grant program state miSci must receive the approval of the municipal governing body. The City Council on Monday night agreed to support the museum’s efforts.

The city itself is applying for a similar $500,000 grant through the Regional Economic Development Council awards to be used for improvements at Jerry Burrell Unity Park. The money, which would require a 25 percent match from the city, would go toward increased lighting, improved playground equipment, pavement and other facility improvements.

Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said the project is a “good opportunity for the neighborhood,” noting that several local organizations use it for programming.

The park, between Paige and Schenectady streets in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood, received new playground equipment in 2016 as part of an annual round of capital improvements through the city’s park advisory commission.

Jerry Burrell park has also been the scene of a number of violent crimes and shootings over the years.

Finally, a third regional council project received City Council support. This one would provide funding for 75 feet of dockage at Mohawk Harbor. The funding, if won, would require a 25 percent match from the project developer.

The dock was part of a development council proposal last year along with a visitor center at Mohawk Harbor. The visitor center received state funding, but the dock project did not.

The REDC grants would be distributed through the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which is offering roughly $22 million in this year’s awards pot. The total resources available through the 2017 awards tops $800 million, according to the program’s website.

The economic development council awards are an annual affair in which 10 regions vie for a slice of funding for local development projects. The regional councils are made up of local stakeholders and business leaders. Those councils pitch proposals to state decision-makers, who then determine which are most worthy of funding. 

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