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Plans for Kemble Park move ahead

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Plans for Kemble Park move ahead
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Plans have been underway for years to create a community park where the old Kemble Street School once stood in Utica. The project looks good on paper, but there's still work to be done on the ground. Our Cara Thomas tells us what hurdle city residents have to clear before anything else can be done.

UTICA, N.Y. -- It was at the corner of Kemble and James streets that a school once stood. And now...

Kelly Walters, a member of the Cornhill Neighborhood Association, said, "It has a basketball court, and there's a soccer field however it hasn't been used for a number of years."

Ever since the Kemble Street School was torn down, a group of Utica residents have been brainstorming how to make good use of that vacant land. Together with students from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, they've come up with a plan to create a community park.

Walters said, "It's beautiful. It's like pie in the sky kind of dreaming and everything we want in the project."

But to get there, the road hasn't been easy. One stumbling block is the fear that the school's demolition left contamination in the soil. So state and county health departments have stepped in to help. Their main focus will be to look for lead, which they say is common in older urban areas.

Don Miles, from the New York State Dept. of Health, said, "So that's been a concern in this particular neighborhood because you can measure that by childhood blood lead level and they're a little bit high in this neighborhood."

The health departments were awarded a competitive $200,000 grant to perform these soil tests in numerous places around the city. They say they don't expect to find any contamination at the Kemble Street site, they're just trying to be cautious.

"I would think that before you want to develop it into a park you would want to know this kind of information," says Miles.

The property is still owned by the Utica City School District, so health department representatives presented their idea to the school board for approval.

Bruce Karam, Utica School District's Superintendent, said, "To have a community park like this in that neighborhood is a great idea. It'll help the youth of that area and only positive things can come out of it, so the school district wants to be part of that."

So the ball is now in the school district's court. It's up to them to decide if and how they'll move forward with the creation of the park.

Health department representatives say if all goes as planned, they'll begin testing soil samples in the spring.

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