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City of Boston gives $2 million for rec center

Jackson Square plans for year-round ice-rink and sports facility

Karen Morales
City of Boston gives $2 million for rec center
Mayor Walsh speaking at press event in Jackson Square.

For the last 20 years, community activists in Jackson Square have been working to bring to the neighborhood a central place for teens to play, learn and work. After Mayor Martin Walsh administration’s contribution of $2 million towards the project this month, that dream is only $6 million away from reaching its funding goal of $30 million.

Urban Edge, a community organization in Egleston and Jackson Square, is the main developer of the Jackson Square Recreation Center, a two-story, 75,000-square foot facility equipped with an ice-rink and artificial turf.

At a press event last Wednesday, Natasha Dunker, executive director of Urban Edge, said the idea for the recreation center is rooted in the historic founding of the organization. “The same activists that stopped a highway from plowing through this neighborhood 40 years ago came together to make Urban Edge,” she said.

“Although successful in stopping the highway,” she continued, “they could not stop parcels of land from being emptied to make room for it.”

Once those parcels were up for grabs 20 years later, Urban Edge joined with other community partners to use the space for a recreation center, said Dunker.

With her 11-year-old son by her side at the podium, Dunker emphasized the need for safe and enriching opportunities for teens, especially after a shooting involving a minor occurred in the neighborhood just the night before, said Dunker.

“I heard gunshots last night as I was going to sleep,” said Dunker, who lives just a few blocks away from the center’s designated location. “I woke up to learn that a 16-year-old boy was killed.”

“The recreation center is not a cure-all for gun violence in Boston, but the need for it keeps getting highlighted,” she said.

Walsh, at the press event about the funding for the new center, said, “The recreation center will be a safe place where kids can just be kids.” He added that with 26,000 youth living within a one- and-a-half-mile radius of the proposed center, the project will have a significant impact in the community.

Regarding the aforementioned shooting involving a 16-year-old, Walsh said, “The thing is, we have too many guns on the streets of Boston, too many guns on the streets of urban America.”

Urban Edge CEO Frank Shea said that the project benefitted greatly from the input of the neighborhood’s young people, either from the Mayor’s youth council or “the all-star sleuths from the Hyde Square Task Force we love reading about in the paper.”

Ayan Ahmed, a senior at Burke High School and resident of the neighborhood, also spoke at the press conference, describing the real need she and her peers have for a place to spend time after school.

“We have always felt like there is something missing because there is no recreation center accessible and close to us,” Ahmed said. “Kids in Jackson Square have a right to a recreation center just as much as kids in the Suburbs do. I’m looking forward to [having a place where] people can be themselves, learn how to ice skate, play soccer on the turf or get homework help.”

As for the remaining funding needed, Dunker said they’re looking to the private sector to provide it.

“We’re hoping to have a groundbreaking next summer,” she said. “It’s a very aggressive timeline.”

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