Sokol N. Belle Vernon park champion
R.J. Sokol said that when he heard North Belle Vernon council was considering plans to sell or lease Graham Street Park, he was uncomfortable with the idea.
Then his son, Bobby, told him he had nothing but fond childhood memories of the park.
The former councilman and leader of the Parks and Recreation Committee said something had to be done.
Over the last few months, Sokol – with backing from council and Mayor Craig Ambrose – worked to develop a plan to revitalize the park.
“When my son said those words ... I couldn't see us losing that park,” Sokol said. “I want someone else to have a chance to make memories like my son and I have. I don't want to see those memories die off.”
Sokol said he's making a final push and working on “last-minute” contacts as he awaits word on a borough grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The plan has been sent to the borough's engineer, Widmer Engineering, which prepared the grant application.
“They're doing it for free, contingent on us getting the grant,” Sokol said of Widmer. “There's no fees to pay unless we get it. Needless to say, I'm leaving no stone unturned. This is the final push.”
Sokol's plan includes removing the decaying tennis courts, reducing the basketball court to a half court and installing a full-size dek hockey facility and a 40-yard by 40-yard artificial surface soccer field to be used for youth organizations and 3-on-3 activities.
The children's playground area would be brought up to federal American Safety Playground Association standards, the rest room remodeled and lighting updated.
According to Sokol, the DCNR will match any money that the borough receives for the park, including in-kind services such as free labor.
“I've been everywhere seeing who wants to be a part of this,” Sokol said.
He wasn't disappointed.
“The leaders in and around this community understand the economic benefits of having a park,” Sokol said. “If we lose our tax base, then the money shrinks. We need a healthy flow of people living and coming into the community.”
Sokol received letters of intent from the Belle Vernon Area School District and BVA Youth Soccer Association for $25,000 and $15,000, respectively.
“I've talked to the high school coaches and the youth league. They'd be very interested in holding some of their in- and off-season activities at the soccer field that would be here,” Sokol said. “The field will be lit, so they could hold evening practices, 3-on-3 drills, and it provides them an extra facility.
“The youth league can use the facility throughout the week as well. For practices, you don't need a full-length field.”
Removing half of the basketball court would allow for construction of the inline/dek hockey facility, capitalizing on the growing popularity of the sport that is driven by the success of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“This project has so many tentacles, one of which is drugs,” Sokol said. “It's a shame that this park has been known as being part of the drug problem in the community.
“Let's get a good amount of people in there daily and push these people out. We have routine police patrols and now we have 24-hour surveillance in the park. Not many other parks can say that.”
Sokol said he has letters of intent from St. Sebastian Regional School, Rostraver Township Board of Commissioners, North Belle Vernon Fire Department, Rostraver-West Newton EMS and a number of local churches and affiliated organizations.
“Every hour of volunteer work that we have, we'll receive the state prevailing wage of $21.50 an hour,” Sokol said. “With the amount of organizations and people pledging their support, that's a big deal.”
Gross costs of the project are estimated at $304,000, including:
• $78,000 for wall padding of the soccer and hockey areas.
• $105,000 for synthetic surface for soccer area.
• $30,000 for fencing.
• $38,000 for the children's playground.
• $15,000 for a rest room facility.
• $38,000 for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, LED lighting and other costs.
Sokol said the gross cost is nowhere near what the cost would be when in-kind services are included, but they are included in the amount the DCNR would match.
As for cash the borough will have for the project, Sokol listed:
• $25,000 from Belle Vernon Area School District.
• $15,000 from BVA Youth Soccer Association.
• $10,600 from the Borough of North Belle Vernon.
• $10,000 from the North Belle Vernon Recreation and Education Committee.
• $10,000 grant from the Laurel Foundation.
Sokol listed the following in-kind donations:
• $54,000 from WorldTurf for the playground and soccer field.
• $10,000 from an electrical work contractor.
• $6,000 from Burns Construction for surface blacktop for hockey area.
• $2,200 from Vesely Brothers for storage.
• $31,000 from SportsGraphics for padding on soccer and hockey areas.
• $8,500 from Bitting Co. for playground equipment.
“That's $107,200 of in-kind services that would be matched by the grant,” Sokol said. “That equals $314,400 – more than enough to cover the costs of the project.”
Sokol said the borough will learn by May 30 about the grant.
“I'm contacting more local, bigger businesses to see if they'd like to donate and be a part of this project,” Sokol said.
Sokol said he has offered signage options and corporate logos as part of a potential deal to large donors – as well as the potential for naming rights.
“I can envision people going into the park day and night,” Sokol said. “We'll be putting a potential marketing plan into place when we get towards completion of the park.
“We have this great place for people to come to; we just have to bring it up to the needs of the public and make it a great place to be and visit.”
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2667.