Today there is a green space with a number of trees, benches and a walking path at the top of Maple and State streets. Twenty years ago, it was an eyesore, with cracked blacktop and three-foot weeds growing out of the cracks, along with vandalism. That all changed beginning in 1992, due in part to an idea for an Eagle Scout project.
That site was a once a playground across the street from the Oneonta Normal School, later to become the State University College at Oneonta, used at first by the students of the school, as well as the Percy I. Bugbee training school. When the Old Main building was torn down in 1977, where the Old Main Apartments are found today, the playground was little-used.
At some point, the state sold the playground lot to the city for $1. In 1988, there had been plans in the works to transform the paved-over area into what we call a green space today. There had been an anonymous donor ready to help make the transition, but that resident moved away before work began.
In late September 1991, Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed fraternity at the State University College at Oneonta cleaned up the playground as a service project. It was a temporary fix for the old playground, and although neighbors continued talking about improvements, the funding wasn't available to make the area a pleasant sight.
That was until Brian Arenella, then a 15-year-old Oneonta High School student, had an idea. Arenella had been reading about the plight of the improvement project in The Daily Star, so on his birthday, July 11, 1992, he came up with the idea to take on the project as an Eagle Scout. Arenella was with Troop 91, based at Greater Plains Elementary School.
"I just figured it would be a good experience," Arenella told The Daily Star on Nov. 14, 1992. He hoped to gain experience in planning, leadership and other skills such as landscape architecture, which he had sights on as a possible future career.
Not much could be done with winter setting in, so the planning began by Arenella and a number of other neighborhood residents.
The real work got under way Monday, April 26, 1993, with a ceremonial tree planting for Arbor Day. Mayor David Brenner also accepted a "Tree City U.S.A." flag for the city's tree-planting efforts going on at the time.
Then in the afternoon, Arenella and several members of Troop 91 started the real dirty work of the project.
"I didn't realize what a huge project this was," Arenella said that day. "At first I thought it would be a couple of weekends' work."
Arenella's part of the work was completed by mid-August, with the installation of the park benches and several shrubs. The neighborhood group that had worked with Arenella put the finishing touches on the grounds. The centerpiece of the park was a donated red oak. Much of the project was completed by monetary donations, local foundations and city funds.
Arenella eventually earned Eagle Scout status for the project. He had said back in April 1993 that he was glad he chose this project.
"I had thrown around some other project ideas in my head, but this one's the best because it's lasting. It'll be a permanent thing for the community. They won't have to look at that black asphalt anymore. Now they'll have someplace they can go relax and enjoy."
This weekend: America was told to wake up in August 1942.
City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.