School of Management (SOM) students are putting their books aside to manage a different kind of project: teaming up with organizations to give a local park a makeover.
“OurSpace at Rec Park” is a project aimed at revitalizing Recreation Park and helping make it accessible to those with disabilities. It began as an exchange of ideas in the fall of 2013, when SOM PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Scholars program adviser and finance professor Dina Layish contacted Jennifer O’Brien, executive director of Life is Washable Inc., a program for individuals with developmental disabilities, for ideas on how to expand on the scholars’ work with the community.
Layish, along with the then-President David Schwartz and the then-Vice President of Fundraising Jake Weiss, met with O’Brien to discuss possibilities for community projects.
“We suggested fixing up the baseball field in Rec Park, but Jen expanded on that idea and said, ‘Why not think bigger and work on the whole park?’” said Weiss, a junior majoring in finance who is now PwC Scholars president.
According to O’Brien, though Rec Park was once a place that welcomed local families and used as a set for an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” it fell into disrepair in recent decades following IBM’s departure and an increase in crime in the city and was in need of rejuvenation.
O’Brien said nearly $1 million was raised over 20 months, with hundreds of renovations performed in the park thus far, though the construction is still incomplete.
“You can put a price tag on it, but it is truly priceless,” O’Brien said. “It does not have as much to do with the people who started it, it has everything to do with those who get involved.”
The park interested the students of SOM’s PwC Scholars program, which recruits students with a minimum 3.5 GPA for additional writing coursework and management practice. According to Sneha Mehta, a junior majoring in accounting, the program emphasizes volunteering as well as academic excellence.
“Community service is a huge part of the scholars program,” Mehta said. “We don’t just strive for professional development but also using all the manpower and diverse ideas we have and unite together to help the community.”
The project was split into two phases. Phase I consisted of the Scholars revitalizing Sheehan and Hallahan baseball fields. According to Weiss, the group raised nearly $20,000 to build fences, a dugout, scoreboard and a mural.
Money was obtained primarily through charities such as Wendy Walk and grants from the city of Binghamton, as well as competitions, auctions and raffles by the Scholars. The Binghamton Breakfast Rotary Club, a charity organization, installed an electronic scoreboard. This section of the park was unveiled in May of 2014.
Phase II of the project enabled groups to work on a different “space,” or a section with a unique feature in the park. The PwC Scholars focused their efforts on the “tree deck” and “sound garden” spaces, a tree house and outdoor musical instruments.
The park also has a garden, playground, performance space and fitness space. These were completed by Nick Corcoran, the landscape designer for the park, with input from individuals with special needs.
During Phase II, which is expected to be completed in late spring, word spread through social media about the project. In the process, more volunteers joined, including students from Binghamton High School, SUNY Broome, the Cornell Cooperative Extension, local companies, city council members and the BU Scholars program.
“This community as a whole has the unique ability to process, and is not afraid to be innovative,” O’Brien said. “For every time we hit a barrier, someone handed us a ladder at every turn.”