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Urbana Town Supervisor Dave Oliver leads students from Design Connect through recently acquired and restored Curtiss Park.

Design Connect projects come to fruition in two upstate towns

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Lindsey Hadlock

Residents of Hammondsport-Urbana work with Sara VandenBroek, center, a graduate student in landscape architecture.

The towns of Urbana and Brutus have both received grants from New York State Department of State’s (NYS DOS) Regional Economic Development Councils to continue work on projects that were developed in partnership with Design Connect, the Department of City and Regional Planning's multidisciplinary student-run design and planning organization.

Each semester, Design Connect participants form small groups that collaborate with stakeholders in upstate New York towns to provide design and planning resources. Grants that support project implementation are largely the result of Design Connect’s contribution of site research, analysis and feasible design plans as well as efforts by administrators and community members to identify funding resources such as the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA).

Design Connect began collaborative research with the town of Urbana in 2015 to work on a portion of the town’s master plan that would improve public access to Keuka Lake’s Champlin Beach. In fall 2016, a new group of students, led by Tess Ruswick ’18, continued site research, analysis and developed plans for an old railway conversion – or “rails-to-trails” project – that would connect two public lakefront parks with a bridge and footpath.

The 2016 team worked with the municipality, local residents and the nonprofit organization Friends of the Hammondsport Area Trails and Parks, to draft a site plan that was used in part in the town’s CFA proposal to NYS DOS. Urbana’s administration and the group were notified in fall 2017 they would receive $683,603 as part of NYS DOS’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program. The funds will cover 75 percent of the budget to create the new connective pathway, making the grant what Urbana Town Supervisor Dave Oliver called “the linchpin that holds everything together.”

“I'm really happy that the town of Urbana received the funding to continue the work that has been started,” said Ruswick. “The community is very invested in creating a network of open spaces and trails along the area’s waterfront, and it was amazing to listen to their thoughtful ideas and incorporate them into a vision that I’m very excited to see come into fruition.”

Also in fall 2016, the town of Brutus Design Connect group, led by Kelly Farrell ’18, worked with local administrators and residents to create a site plan and cost analysis for the town’s Centreport Aqueduct Park expansion. The project's initiation followed the gift of an adjacent 3.85-acre parcel that nearly doubles the area of the existing park. The Centreport Aqueduct is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the surrounding park is part of the Erie Canal Trail. The town needed guidance on how best to make improvements to the existing infrastructure while integrating elements of the additional acreage, including a substantial pond, open and shaded areas and a new point of public access to the park.

“The Design Connect opportunity was introduced at a unique time as the town had recently been given an additional parcel of land with a swampy pond on it,” said Brutus Town Clerk Angela Skellington. “The task given to the team was to include that parcel in the whole park and offer suggestions on the best way to do it. The team worked professionally, asked questions, studied the area and its history, held public meetings and presented a final product with some wonderful and attainable goals. Design Connect’s report gave the town a very vivid picture of what our park could become.”

The town of Brutus’ administration used the report to submit a CFA for the fall 2017 cycle and was granted $352,000 from NYS DOS’s Environmental Protection Fund Grant Program for Parks, Preservation and Heritage. The funds will support several elements included in the Design Connect plan, including the repair and stabilization of the historic aqueduct, the addition of pull-off parking along the public roadway, and the implementation of a trail, boardwalk and sitting dock.

“I would highly recommend this experience for any other community,” added Skellington. “I think it is a win-win for us as well as for the Design Connect team.”

Design Connect is advised by Michael Tomlan, professor of city and regional planning and director of the Historic Preservation Planning program, who said, “We mark our 10th anniversary this spring proudly knowing that Design Connect has provided at least four field teams every semester, assisting more than 80 projects throughout the region.”

Spring 2018 Design Connect groups will work on four projects including one in Ithaca’s Collegetown, as well as sites in Penn Yan, Hamilton and Utica, New York.

Edith Fikes is a communication assistant for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

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