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Still Wading: MLK Splash Pad's Opening Delayed

Martin Luther King Jr. Park was ignored for decades, according to Common Council Majority Leader Demone Smith.

His Masten District includes the park; for years, he says, he saw the city’s capital spending directed to Buffalo’s other parks. The attitude has changed as the city pursues projects to revitalize MLK Park—but the $4.5 million Humboldt Basin and splash pad will not be opening on July 1, as originally planned.

No new opening day has been announced. The city is taking it “day by day,” according to Steven Stepniak, commissioner of the Department of Public Works, Parks, and Streets. “No date has been pinned down,” Stepniak said.

However, Smith stated that when he spoke to the contractor he was told, it would be “about a 30-day delay.”

Delays aren’t anything new for MLK’s splash pad. Renovation of the basin first began in 2001. For years, the once thriving basin—which dates back to the early 1900s—remained barren concrete. For the next three years construction plans faltered and re-emerged based on available finances. A relatively small splash pad was finally built and opened in June 2004. That splash pad remained open and operating until it was closed all of last summer to start construction on the basin’s current complete overhaul, according to Smith.

“We’ve been working on this and it’s about to become a reality,” Smith said. “The park has been neglected for decades; people just didn’t do anything. For the past 10 years we have brought that park back to life.”

Stepniak said he could not speak for MLK park’s past neglect, but that the park and the surrounding neighborhood has the city’s attention now, and he expects a tremendous outcome.

The splash pad that opened in 2004 is just a glimmer of what is coming, Stepniak said. The basin is now being restored to its original five-acre size. In the summer, the advanced water features will provide a place for patrons to cool off; in the fall and spring, the basin will be a reflective pool; and in the winter, weather permitting, the basin will be used as a skating ring.

The basin’s construction is a “very complicated process,” Stepniak said in explaining why the opening is delayed. Stepniak ensured the delays are in part because he and those involved want to make sure everything is being checked thoroughly and done properly. The basin is expected to last for at least 50 years, Stepniak said.

The construction is being done by Man O’ Trees. The process started with Wendel Duchscherer Architects & Engineers; demolition was done by Cerrone Construction; and Titan Development was responsible for the equipment, like spray heads and plumbing. These four separate contracts total $4.5 million.

On June 12, the Common Council approved an increase in Wendel’s contract of $116,550. The increase is to allot for further water inspections, which Stepniak cited as vital to ensure the pad’s longevity: “We want to make sure it’s all set so we don’t have to back in there.”

“I would rather wait 30 days or whatever to get it done right, rather than get a rushed job,” Smith said.

The park’s improvements reach beyond the splash pad. Playgrounds have been improved, picnic shelters rebuilt, and the shelter house and bathrooms reopened. The refurbishments cost $800,000.

“We put a tremendous amount of work in all the parks,” Stepniak said. “Some parks need more work than others. To us, this is not just about MLK Park, this is the historical significance of that basin. It’s a huge part of the history of Buffalo.”

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