Updating the Coppens Square rehab: ‘Shovel ready,’ with one last hurdle

Coppens Square Park

Seven years ago, a small group met around the small defunct fountain in Coppens Square Park across Bowdoin Street from St. Peter’s Church. The city’s Browne Fund was holding $20,000 in reserve for a study of the renovation of the park and had approached Jennifer Johnson, the head of the Dorchester Arts Collaborative about accessing the funds.

Jennifer reached out to Davida Andelman (Greater Bowdoin/Geneva Neighborhood Association) and myself to join her and representatives of the Browne Fund, then-Commissioner Chris Cook of the Parks and Recreation Department, and City Councillor Frank Baker. Everyone agreed that the park was long overdue for renovation and that the decrepit fountain should be replaced.

Cook suggested that the project would benefit greatly from the formation of residents’ group to support the renovation and so was born The Friends of Coppens Square (FOCS).

I have written in this space several times about the history of Coppens Square, the mysterious disappearance of the original, magnificent fountain, and the efforts to renovate the park. Today I am giving the latest update.

Over the years, FOCS has led the effort to renovate the square in every regard. We created a non-profit corporation to accommodate fundraising. We hired a landscape architect and conducted public meetings, advertising throughout the neighborhood in English, Spanish, Cape Verde and Haitian creoles and Vietnamese. Our landscape architect identified the last remaining US foundry that specializes in making fountains and helped us develop a design for a new one. They also arranged for a local fountain engineer to become involved.

Our meetings were attended by hundreds of residents, city officials, and elected representatives, scores of whom became FOCS members. We raised over $40,000 toward on-going maintenance of a new fountain and applied to several funds and foundations for money to finance the project. We were granted $100,000 from the City’s Community Preservation Committee for a final design plan.

We also hit many brick walls. Money approved in the state Senate budget that would have paid for the entire project turned out to be inapplicable since the state does not pay for city park renovations, only for those at state-owned parks. Even though our years of work, planning, and meetings involved city elected officials and staff from the Parks and Recreation Department, no one ever told us that our entire planning process had to be redone because it had not been funneled through the city’s planning process and we had to begin all over again. Which we did.

Then the pandemic hit.

Today we are very nearly at the goal line. And just in time, as the top of the dinky fountain that replaced the original recently fell over. The capital budget for Parks and Rec, including the cost of the renovation of Coppens Square, was approved by the City Council at the end of June. We are “shovel ready” and waiting for work to begin.

But one big hurdle remains for FOCS: raising the funds for the continued maintenance of the new fountain when it is installed. The city will maintain the renovated grounds but FOCS will be responsible for the estimated $10,000-$12,000 annual cost of maintaining the fountain: cleaning, its computer-run pumping system, emergencies, etc. The plan is to invest at least $250,000 in a managed fund and pay for the maintenance with the interest from the fund. To date we have about $40,000 on hand, or 16 percent of what we need, and we are intending to create a FOCS website with a “donate” button for local contributions.

Still, we are facing a steep climb to our goal as this neighborhood, whose gateway is Coppens Square, does not have deep pockets. What we really need is help from Dorchester folks who have loyalty to their hometown and access to financial help. Updates to follow.
The author is the President of The Friends of Coppens Square.

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