From playground to streetscapes, money to build Fitchburg board approves block grants

By Alana Melanson
Sentinel & Enterprise

FITCHBURG — A natural play area for children at Green Acres and gateway streetscape improvements are among this year’s federal Community Development Block Grant projects.

Mayor Lisa Wong said she’s excited about the Green Acres playground project, at a cost of $15,000, which came out of an interactive process with residents. She sees it as a sign of innovative projects to come out of the Fitchburg Housing Authority.

“The housing authority has really come a long way,” Wong said. “The management and the board have sort of broken down the silo around them and really understood how important Green Acres is to the development of the city, to families, to youth.”

Streetscape projects, at a total cost of $115,000, will include improvements to Water, River and Main streets and Boulder Drive, as well as finishing sidewalks on Johnson Street between High and Marshall streets.

For the last few years, Wong said, funds going toward the gateway beautification project have been used for engineering and landscape architecture design, and she’s excited to finally put money into improvements residents and visitors can see and feel.

She said she’s also happy to see the demolition program continuing, though at just under $30,000, the appropriation will be smaller than previous years. These small dollars have a big impact on neighborhoods, Wong said, adding she’s happy that councilors are proposing to add more city dollars to the cause of removing dilapidated buildings.

The City Council Finance Committee approved nearly all of the approximately $922,400 in CBDG funding requests at its meeting Tuesday night, with the exception of $260,000 in rehabilitation and preservation services, which was discussed but not voted on.

Finance Chairman Marcus DiNatale had to recuse himself during the discussion of that portion due to a family member’s salary being impacted by the funding, and his absence left the committee without a quorum, though other councilors were present.

The rehabilitation and preservation portion includes $55,000 for the Elder Home Repair Program, $180,000 to supplement the salaries of health and building inspectors and clerks to support code enforcement, and $25,000 for the Housing Division Homeowner Rehabilitation Program. DiNatale said these items will be voted on by the full council next week, when they will finalize the entire CDBG spending package.

Other CDBG spending items include: $20,000 for the Crocker Field House roof restoration project; $2,450 for signage for Riverfront and Sheldon Street parks; $75,000 for playground improvements throughout the city; $53,000 for after-school youth programs, food pantry, classes and bilingual services at the Cleghorn Neighborhood Center; $88,000 for the Family Services Unit and Drug Enforcement & Patrol Program at the Police Department; $13,000 for transportation to the after-school program at the Boys & Girls Club; $6,000 to the YMCA Teen Center Spartacus Program; $5,000 for the Montachusett Interfaith Hospitality Network Family Housing Program; $20,000 for the Twin Cities Community Development Corp. Small Business Technical Assistance Program; and $220,000 for CBDG administration.