Russell Spotton was walking his dog Nikki in Stephenson Park last summer when she found a new way to cool off in the park’s battered baseball diamond – a deep puddle between first and second.
Stephenson is “a good little park” says Spotton, who walks in the park near Danforth and Main almost every afternoon. But parts of it have clearly seen better days.
Besides the bumpy outfield, the concrete sports court is warped and cracked, and a poorly lit back corner invites a lot of drinking, drug use and loud partying, especially in summer.
But starting next year, the park is set to get a major sprucing up.
On April 2, about a dozen members of Friends of Stephenson Park met Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon and City of Toronto landscape architect Netami Stuart to get the first look at a draft plan that includes $200,000 in park upgrades.
The funding is Section 37 money—public amenities funding that the developers of the nearby Carmelina condos at Danforth and Woodbine were required to pay the city in return for extra density in their buildings.
Along with those upgrades, the city’s parks department will separately fund 32 new trees in the park.
Stuart said the main feature in the draft plan is a new path that will wind across in the park’s north end. The draft also includes potential court resurfacing, outfield repairs, plus a new light and a 22-plot community garden with water service that Stuart and others hope will make the park’s northeast corner less trouble-prone.
In the playground, the draft includes new monkey bars and boulders by the sandbox for watching parents to sit on.
At the meeting, Stuart said $200,000 can go fast given that some big-ticket park items, like a splash area, can easily cost twice that.
Stuart asked everyone at the meeting to put stickers on their top three priorities in the park. The residents chose resurfacing the sports court as the top item, followed by building a community garden and repairing the outfield. The draft will go back to the city for a detailed costing before a final one is drawn up.
Stephenson Avenue resident Catherine McNeil says she is pleased with the new park plan.
“The children’s area is what I use most – my kids used it and now my grandkids use it,” she said. “From what I’ve heard from other parents in the neighbourhood, they’ve been anxious to get it upgraded for quite a while.”
McNeil, who together with her partner Tak Bui and others have organized three gardens near the park, said vandalism has been an off-and-on-again problem for a long time.
One particular issue is the chain-link fence that borders the railway just south of the park. Residents say vandals often cut through it to run across the railway tracks to Norwood Road and Gerrard. The fence is maintained by PNR RailWorks under contract to GO Transit, but the city’s parks department has also patched it up in the past.
“I’m kind of cynical – I do think there’ll be some vandalism,” said McNeil. “But again, it just depends who is living in the neighbourhood at the time and if there are more people using the park it’s less likely to happen.”
Councillor McMahon said the draft plan looks “spectacular” so far, adding that she is especially excited now that Ward 32 is scheduled to get its first community garden.
McMahon also said she will also look into how the city could make it easier for baseball teams to hold games and practices in the Paul Keen baseball diamond. A four-year old noise complaint may be the reason coaches have had a hard time getting permits to play there.
Continuing the baseball tradition, McMahon said planners will also consider new signage to commemorate Paul Keen, the ball diamond’s namesake, who is remembered for his involvement in local baseball teams and for making an ice rink at the park in winter.