Passionate Pursuits: Zoulas Leads Park Redevelopment Project
1/4/13 9:15 AM
Spero Zoulas, a senior academic advisor at Excelsior College, has a passion for making a difference in the city of Schenectady. For the last two years he has been actively engaged in chairing the Woodlawn Park Redevelopment project, working with a group of volunteers, the city and county of Schenectady.
Excelsior Life spoke to Zoulas about his passion for the volunteer project.
Excelsior Life: What motivated you to get involved in this project?
Zoulas: It started when I became involved in the Woodlawn Neighborhood Association after having concerns about the conditions of our roads in the area. I worked with neighbors to get it repaved. The enthusiasm from the neighbors spread and turned towards organizing a cleanup event for an underutilized and deteriorated park.
Hearing about the positive feedback, I wanted to take our work further, so I started a committee of concerned citizens to form the Woodlawn Park Redevelopment Committee. One of our members of our committee, Maureen Obie, also works here at Excelsior College.
Excelsior Life: Do you have a background in town planning? If not, what have you learned from this experience?
Zoulas: Until this time, I really had no experience in city planning. I had to reach out city officials in order to find out what steps needed to be taken. I have learned the intricate details that go into putting together a development plan by presenting to our city council and meeting with the city’s mayor. I am still learning as I go, but I feel that in a few years, the park will be in its latter stages of redevelopment.
Excelsior Life: What have been your biggest challenges? What milestones have you reached to date?
Zoulas: The biggest challenge has been putting together the park’s redevelopment plan. During that process, I had to take into consideration constituents’ desires for incorporating a wide array of new elements into the park’s plan while also weighing what was most practical in terms of total costs, both during construction and future maintenance, and staffing of the park. In essence, a plan needed to be both an appealing new design for the neighborhood, while also limiting the staffing, cleanup, and maintenance needed from a city.
Another big challenge has yet to come. This will be the securing of grants and funding towards the park’s construction costs associated with its redevelopment. We are in the initial stages of that now.
We have achieved many milestones to date in the last year and a half of work. We have held several cleanup events which have transformed the park from a jungle-like appearance into a much more welcoming environment for kids and families. We have also worked with the city, county and a local architectural firm.
We are nearing another milestone soon. This will involve the filling of the park’s abandoned pools and taking down of the inner fencing that surrounds that area. This will open up the park more and allow for a clear line of sight through the park, which will make it safer and even more inviting.
Excelsior Life: What advice would you give to others who want to get involved in a project like this in their community?
Zoulas: Check out one of your local neighborhood association meetings – this is a great way to see what’s going on or to spur others to start a new project in your area. You could also visit your town’s website to see what opportunities already exist. Many city or town volunteer groups might have a facebook page as well. Most importantly, talk to your neighbors. I have found this is the best way to find out what needs to get done in your area and how to best get the community involved and invested in the work.
Excelsior Life: Anything else you would like readers of this story to know?
Zoulas: We will be holding our Second Annual Ziti & Meatball Dinner fundraiser in January. For more information on our project or upcoming events, visit https://www.facebook.com/WoodlawnParkSNY