bahamas-flag_web.jpgKEY WEST – Bahama Village residents are looking forward to new basketball courts, night lighting and other improvements to the aging public parks where they gather to play, socialize and celebrate holidays. A contract which the Key West City Commission awarded marks the start of a project that’s been sought for a long time. Some playground equipment is so aged that city officials removed it so children wouldn’t injure themselves.

The renovation of Willie Ward and Nelson English parks, which are part of the same complex, will bring new playground and adult exercise equipment, new pavement and sidewalks, new landscaping and irrigation system, site lighting and a picnic shelter.

The construction also includes wheelchair ramps and bathroom redesigning to meet Americans with Disability Act requirements. It also includes redesigning the entrance to the Martin L. King Jr. Community Center which floods during heavy rains. Work will begin once the necessary permits are obtained.

A week after the commission approved $1,127,807 for the project and awarded Burke Construction Group Inc. the job, two young men shooting baskets in one of the parks said they get a lot of use.

“We use the park every day when we’re bored,” said Orville Garvey, 17. “We practice to keep our conditioning up, to keep our skills sharp.” Orville, who plays basketball for Key West High School, said he does most of his practicing here. “They have stopped doing open gym at the high school so this is the place,” he said.

Anthony Wilson, 15, who attends Wekiva High School in Orlando but spends a lot of time in Bahama Village, called the parks “peaceful,” adding, “You don’t have to worry about anyone bothering you.”

The two basketball playing friends suggested the city build a pavilion covering for the basketball courts, which is not in the current plan.
“Conditioning is 10 times harder when it’s hot outside,” Orville said.

Anthony would like the old barbecue grills, which are well-used, replaced with new ones. Other residents also use the facilities, including the Martin L. King Jr. Community Pool.

“I come here to swim and play basketball,” said Maciek Stryczewski. “The park needs some improvement, though. It will be nice to see better lighting and more exercise equipment.”

The lights for the basketball court don’t always work, he said. “Sometimes we have to quit playing at night,” he said. “They haven’t worked for a while.”

The annual celebration of the birth of Martin L. King Jr. starts at the park each year with a picnic, live music and reciting of civil rights speeches by members of the community. The King Day Parade, which winds through the neighborhood to Cornish Memorial AME Zion Church on Whitehead Street, always starts at the park.

“The parks are the center of the community,” said Commissioner Clayton Lopez, whose district includes Bahama Village. “Families spend time with their children there picnicking, swimming, and enjoying themselves.”

Some $927,289 in Bahama Village Tax Increment Funds – money set aside to improve distressed or underdeveloped neighborhoods – will pay for most of the work. The city’s planning department has suggested the commission provide the rest of the money through Infrastructure Surtax Fund money.

Lopez and the Bahama Village Redevelopment Committee has been the moving force behind the renovations, as well as other projects in the neighborhood, including a million-dollar renovation of the aging Frederick Douglass gymnasium on Olivia Street. The commission recently approved the money for a land and infrastructure survey of the historic building.

The building’s concrete walls are cracked and weakened and the roof is leaky, among other things.