The projected June 1 opening of the state-of-the-art splash pad at Martin Luther King Park promises to bring to fruition years of community, corporate and governmental efforts.
“Promises” because the opening has already been delayed a year, and that’s not to mention stops and starts over the past several years.
The splash pad has a long, mostly dry history, having endured decades of planning. It has been a monument to neglect in a poor community that could use a place to have fun. But more than that, the delays have obscured the historical significance of Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of the 520-foot-diameter basin as the focal point of what was first known as the Parade and later as Humboldt Park.
While it took too long, finally the end of the project is in sight. Much praise is due to BlueCross BlueShield, the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, community activists and city officials.
The first tests last week of the 300 fountains dotting the five-acre splash pad brought praise even from Samuel A. Herbert of the Coalition to Save Martin Luther King Park. He has been a frequent critic of problems with this roughly $4.5 million project, along with a host of other items he could check off, but he wanted to emphasize the positive.
The splash pad will accommodate 1,500 people enjoying its 15-foot-high water sprays that can be animated and set to create different patterns through computers in City Hall. Colorful lights will reflect off the water, and a corner of the basin will be reserved for very young children, with gentler sprays.
In the summer and fall, the basin will be a reflecting pool. In the winter, the shallow water should freeze and create an ice rink.
The project will enrich the lives of the park’s neighbors beyond the recreational opportunities. BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York recognized the need to bring a healthful message to the community and a couple of years ago committed $1 million over 10 years to Olmsted Parks. The first two years of the funding, about $200,000, has gone to the splash basin.
The insurer also plans to offer health programs to residents, who deal with a number of unhealthy circumstances, and give them a safe place to exercise. The basin will be the site for some of BlueCross BlueShield’s “Healthy Zone” programs to encourage exercise and healthy lifestyles. And easy access to skating during the winter should encourage families to get off the couch and take up a new sport.
When is a splash pad more than just a splash pad? When community members and partners come together to renew the vision of the nation’s foremost landscape architect to make a positive change in a neighborhood in need.