LOWELL — Roberto Clemente Park, a mecca for Cambodian volleyball players, is slated for about $150,000 in improvements this summer, City Manager Bernie Lynch announced Saturday morning.
Seven stadium-quality floodlights, four new sets of bleachers, a picnic grove and a concession stand/restroom facility will be installed, and landscaping work will be performed at the park, one of the most heavily used recreational areas in the city.
Parks Commissioner Tom Bellegarde told residents of the area that the city could either provide a prefabricated restroom facility that will not include a concession area, or wait a little longer and construct a larger facility that will also include the concession area, as well as a mechanical room and storage area for tools.
“Because of the sheer number of people you get down here, the concession stand will generate significant revenue that can be put back into maintaining the park,” Bellegarde said.
Vong Ros, executive director of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association and a volleyball player, said there are hundreds of people at Clemente Park playing volleyball and socializing nearly every night, a tradition that has been ongoing for more than a decade.
“In Cambodia it is the game of choice,” he said of volleyball. “There are many here who played the game 30 years ago and still play today.”
Ros added that the installation of lights is something the players have desired for several years.
In March, City Councilor Patrick Murphy started the ball rolling by filing a motion to restore lights to the park, which has been dark for many years.
Under city regulations, parks are open until 10 p.m., starting April 1. However, Murphy argued, it is difficult and dangerous for people to be in an unlit park at night.
Assistant City Manager T.J. McCarthy, who also serves as commissioner of public works, said the lights, which were originally estimated to cost $90,000 to $130,000, have come in at a much lower cost. He told Lynch the lights will be installed “as soon as I get the check.”
The park is on Middlesex Street, near its eastern intersection with Branch Street.
A garden centerpiece, including a Cambodian dragon boat and possibly an oxcart, may be placed near the curbing along Middlesex Street, in the spirit of celebrating the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood.
“A lot of the stuff that reminds people of home,” said Ros, adding that the inclusion of such items would mean a lot to the elders who came from Cambodia, as well as act as a way to keep the younger generation tied to its heritage.
The upgrades, which city officials estimate will cost about $150,000 and will be funded by Community Development Block Grants, are part of the City Manager’s Neighborhood Impact Initiative, an effort to concentrate multiple resources, including CDBG funds, Chapter 90 road-improvement funds, housing rehabilitation and lead-paint abatement funding, and grant-funded policing initiatives in one area at a time to revitalize the city’s low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.
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(Credit: Jennifer Myers, The Sun)