Schenectady’s Central Park, the jewel in the city’s crown for over a century, needs some polish these days.
The 250-acre park was established in 1914 by community leaders to improve the quality of life for the city’s burgeoning population. Besides its baseball and softball fields, hiking trails, playground, swimming pool, and performance hall, Central Park was particularly notable for its tennis court, once the envy of all the other municipalities north of New York State.
All of these amenities still exist in the park, but maintaining them requires a great deal of effort and cost, and many are showing their age. The tennis courts, once a world-class venue that hosted the OTB International Open and World Team Tennis, need attention. Central Park A Diamond, also known as Buck Ewing Field, lies unused and neglected, and the Agnes Macdonald Music Haven Stage, slated for major upgrades this spring, will now wait until the end of this summer season for its renovations , which include 400 new stadium-quality seats.
Jeremy Howard, director of property management for the city, which oversees Central Park and the city’s 24 other parks, admits the park isn’t at its best right now, but he’s confident that will change.
“We’re in the days where we’re doing more with less, but we’re doing our best every day,” said Howard, a Schenectady native who went to Christian Brothers Academy in Albany and worked in the city for 11 years, the last two in his current position. “Central Park is a gem, we have a great park system and we’re working hard to keep it that way. We have a lot to do, and step by step, we’re going to bring that good feeling back to Central Park.”
The city and Mayor Gary McCarthy announced in July 2016 a $1.3 million grant to be split between tennis facilities, the Music Haven Stage, and the A Diamond. While the concert hall and baseball field remain unchanged, work has begun on the tennis courts. Ten of the site’s 17 courts have been refurbished and, according to city engineer Chris Wallin, Copeland Coating Company of Nassau will complete the work later this summer. The park’s Stadium Court has not been used since Schenectady’s WTT franchise left Central Park in 2008.
“The remaining or ‘old’ tennis courts in Central Park are going to be cleaned and recoated over the next month,” Wallin wrote in an email to the Gazette. “That should close this project. There are no long term plans for Stadium Court, but we have had some interest in using it for summer camps or summer events. The city will hire a consultant to assess the condition of the facility before using it again as it has not been used for some time and we need to ensure it is up to code.
Wallin also addressed the Music Haven and A Diamond issues.
“Upgrades to Music Haven and the A Diamond have been pushed back until after the Music Haven concert series,” he said. “If we were doing the work before the Music Haven series, it would have to be moved to this year because we couldn’t allow people on the turf. So we are now starting the project directly after the last concert of the season in August. This way, the grass will have fall, winter and spring to establish.
Mona Golub, artistic director and producer of the Music Haven concert series, said her band’s House & Hill campaign, launched last July to raise funds and complete the grant for Music Haven, continues to attract donors. Part of the campaign is a purchase of bricks or blocks, which allows donors to customize the item and place it either in the “supporting wall”, on a chair or on the front of the stage . This summer’s season starts on July 9.
“The bricks that have been dedicated are being carved and they should be ready for our summer social on August 6,” Golub said, declining to comment on the delay.
While the Music Haven room, with or without the upgrades, remains one of the best features of the park, work on the tennis courts has put a damper on the aesthetic quality of the facility. Much of the ground surrounding the courts has been disturbed, leaving dirt where there used to be grass. Additionally, the venue’s water fountain, dedicated to the memory of Nancy Haffner, who played in Central Park for years, is broken, and in various places around the edges of the courts there are unused pieces of concrete. Howard said these issues will be resolved.
“We are working on finishing the rest of the courts, and when we do, we will start cleaning the perimeter and removing any debris,” said Howard, who added that a new tennis shed, with rooms bathroom, should be built in the early fall. “We are going to freshen up the place.
“We have a lot of moving parts, different components, and we’re working one step at a time,” Mayor McCarthy said. “We have invested a lot of money in the courts and in the whole park, and we will continue to invest in the place. I’m not sure of the exact timeline, but we’re working hard.
Once the home of the Section II boys’ and girls’ tennis tournament, Central Park last hosted the boys’ and girls’ competitions in 2015.
Julia Bliss Beal, a 1996 Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake graduate and 2000 University of Albany graduate, is keeping a close eye on White Plains’ work. Beal is the Senior Director of Competitive Tennis for the United States Tennis Association’s Eastern Section, which uses Central Park for a number of its events.
“We had three events there in June and we have three more in August and two in September, so we’re very excited about the work,” Beal said. “It was disappointing that there were only 10 courts we could use in June. We had to use the Michigan Avenue courts and we also used the Shenendehowa courts, but it’s such a facility wonderful and we really need all 17 courts.
Bliss said she grew up going to Central Park and watching the OTB Open.
“As kids, we watched great tennis players for free,” she said. “It was a big event and a big facility. Brings back so many good memories, but now we’re sitting here in White Plains, looking at each other, hoping the place will be ready. We have signed hotel contracts, we have registered food vendors. We love this place, but we need the 17 courts, so we need them to button up and get the job done.
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