Although east siders will soon see trucks and fences at a few of their parks, they’ll see new basketball courts, a baseball diamond and expanded greenspace as well within the next few years.
Cleveland city council’s Municipal Services and Properties Committee approved easements on Monday for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to install surface-level entry points for its underground overflow storage tunneling projects at Gordon Park in St. Clair-Superior and Forest Hills Park on the border of Forest Hills and Glenville. Both parks reside just off the lakeshore along I-90.
The storage tunnels, part of NEORSD’s Project Clean Lake, will capture billions of gallons of sewage overflow that would otherwise end up in Lake Erie and other nearby waterways once they’re completed.
The easements for the construction on these new tunnels are worth about $547,000, said Cleveland’s real estate commissioner James DeRosa during the committee meeting. DeRosa said the sewer district will allocate $400,000 of that cost, along with an additional $100,000 grant, for park maintenance and improvements at Forest Hills park. The remaining $147,000 and change will be allocated for improvements at Gordon Park.
The project at Forest Hills park (not to be confused with the much larger Forest Hill park) will be NEORSD’s primary mining site over the next two to four years, said the sewer district’s information specialist Jennifer Elting. Preliminary work started back in July, and crews with cranes and loaders will soon begin to mine the tunnel.
“We’re doing the mining there, so at some point, you’ll see, almost like big mountains of gravel is what it looks like when we excavate,” Elting said.
According to planning images, the work site occupies most of the park, which has almost no features aside from its open field as it stands now. But while workers make gravel mountains, they’ll also work with the city to build some substantial improvements to the park that will leave it looking entirely different by the time they’re gone.
The barren field that comprises the park now will be filled with basketball courts, a baseball diamond in the park’s center, a play field in the park’s southwest corner and a parking lot on the park’s northwest side off 110th Street, according to DeRosa and initial planning images from the sewer district. They’ll also blanket the park in fresh grass and plant trees in two new landscaping areas along the park’s southern edge.
“The sewer district really is one of the great partners that we’ve been able to work with, you know, with communicating with residents,” said Anthony Hairston, the council member for Ward 10, which includes both parks. “They go the extra mile to make sure that people kind of know what’s going on.”
Hairston said he and the sewer district have met with residents and sent out mailers to inform them of the coming projects. The site at Gordon Park will be rather unobtrusive, he said, mainly occupying a scarcely used chunk of the park’s eastern half. For now, the sewer district plans to replace the old dilapidated tennis courts in that area of the park with fresh grass. The rest of Gordon Park, namely its five baseball diamonds, typically see consistent use.
Hairston said he’s still working on ideas for additional improvements at Gordon Park. He plans to bring NEORSD representatives to meetings with residents to plan out how to spend funds for improvements. Cleveland’s Public Works Department will be involved in the planning as well.
“That’s part of [NEORSD] being a great partner,” Hairston said. “They have helped with restoration beyond just seeding and planting grass. … One of the things that we’ve talked with them and negotiated is some further enhancements [beyond] just grass, things like play areas and helping to provide some funding for other resources that the residents can use in the park.”
City council also granted easements for the sewer district’s tunnel work at Glenview Park, Sam Miller Park, Rockefeller Park, and Grdina Park, but work at those locations will remain mostly below ground.
Clevelanders have long called for better and more accessible parks that are more equitably distributed around the city. Last month, a coalition of nonprofits formed for that particular reason, calling themselves the Cleveland Parks and Greenspace Coalition.
“We are trying to bring awareness to why parks are important and bring some of these issues of community to the forefront,” said LAND Studio’s David Wilson.
NEORSD’s Project Clean Lake has been in the works for more than a decade. When the sewer district began in the early ‘70s, existing sewer infrastructure routed roughly 9 billion gallons of overflow sewage into the environment via Lake Erie and other waterways every year.
With three of the seven planned tunnels finished, about 3 billion gallons now overflow into the environment each year. But when NEORSD finishes all seven tunnels, they anticipate cutting that number to about 500 million gallons.
The sewer district has focused its efforts to mitigate this pollution on Cleveland’s east side, Elting said. The sewer infrastructure dates back earlier than that on the west side, and NEORSD’s service area covers more on the east side than it does on the west side.
“We’ve been there for a while just because we have a lot of projects, but it’s because of combined sewer overflow,” she said. “On Cleveland’s east side, there was so much more of it than there was in our other areas, so we really wanted to focus on the east side first.”
Michael Indriolo is a reporting fellow at The Land.
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