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Lowell’s historic South Common in line for $400,000 facelift

Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and Ronald Amidon, commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game, visit South Common to announce grants from Energy & Environmental Affairs for parks and open space improvements around the state. Homeless advocate OG Harrison of Lowell greets Gov. Baker on his arrival. SUN/Julia Malakie
Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and Ronald Amidon, commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game, visit South Common to announce grants from Energy & Environmental Affairs for parks and open space improvements around the state. Homeless advocate OG Harrison of Lowell greets Gov. Baker on his arrival. SUN/Julia Malakie
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LOWELL — Purchased in 1845, one year after the city’s streets began being paved, the South Common will soon be receiving a $400,000 facelift.

Gov. Charlie Baker made the announcement under sunny skies Tuesday morning — in conjunction with his administration celebrating Climate Week in Massachusetts — before a gathering of 100 at one of the city’s oldest parks.

“It’s great to be back here in Lowell and it’s especially nice to have a $400,000 grant,” Baker said. “Obviously the last 18 months has reintroduced a lot of us to the great outdoors.”

The Baker-Polito administration announced the awarding of more than $10 million in grant funding. The funds will go to park improvements, land conservation projects and open space acquisitions in 37 communities and six conservation districts across the state.

“The bottom line is this is a great opportunity to make a large investment in a lot of communities,” Baker said.

Baker said Massachusetts is fortunate to have so much green space. Investing in those outdoor resources is critical, he said.

“Our administration has made land conservation and local park improvements a key priority since coming into office in 2015, and our proposal to direct $100 million of federal relief funding into parks and open spaces will allow us to invest even more resources into these important projects, especially in Gateway cities and underserved communities that need better access to green spaces,” Baker said.

The $400,000 designated to the South Common will go toward improving the central playing field, creating an accessible route to the surrounding walking track from the parking lot, and making minor repairs to the walking track.

The grants are funded by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ capital budget.

Pointing to the football/soccer field located just feet from the podium, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said, “These are places where people from the community can come together.”

City Manager Eileen Donoghue thanked the governor and lieutenant governor for their attendance, and noted the presence of City Councilors Rita Mercier, Rodney Elliott, Vesna Noun and John Leahy, the mayor.

Living in the COVID-19 era “underscores the need” for accessible parks like the South Common, she said.

“It impacts residents of all ages,” Donoghue said.

The city manager talked about the South Common’s history — it was purchased by the city 176 years ago in an auction by the Proprietors of Locks and Canals — and she said the improvements to the park come at an exciting time for the neighborhood, which includes the Gallagher Transit Terminal, the Hamilton Canal District and the reconfigured Lord Overpass.

The 22-acre parcel is surrounded by Thorndike, Summer, South and Highland streets. The South Common sits far below Summer Street, home to Eliot Church, and Highland Street, home to STEM Academy at the Rogers School, which sit on opposite hills.

It’s a short walk from the Bishop Markham housing project. Homelessness has been an issue in the neighborhood.

State Rep. Vanna Howard, D-Lowell, who came to Lowell as a refugee from Cambodia, spoke about visiting the South Common during her first visit to the city and how important “open spaces” are to a community.

“Lowell needs more green space, and this is another great step towards that goal,” Howard said.