Originally created 10/10/00

Community teams to salvage area



AIKEN - Nineteen months ago, Crosland Park was dotted with for-sale signs as residents scrambled to get out of a neighborhood gone downhill.

But others were determined to stay and stop the downward slide, and they're succeeding. Crosland Park is becoming a model of how residents and their city can work together to solve problems, City Manager Roger LeDuc said at the neighborhood association's October meeting, where about 75 people gathered to talk about progress, pride and patience.

What started simply with communitywide litter brigades has expanded to prizes for the Yard of the Month, a system of block captains to keep tabs on what's right and what's wrong on each street, and a growing fund for community improvements. It's up to $4,500 with an October donation from the Aiken Housing Corp. and a $2,000 pledge from the city, which already had invested $3,000 to beautify the neighborhood.

"It makes me feel so good," said Officer David Nieves, who was the community's first assigned PACT officer. "This is a long journey, but look how far we have come already. It is all about empowering people to go on."

PACT is Police And Community Together, and while Crosland Park is on its third officer in a year and a half, it's only because the first two were offered other jobs.Officer Nieves, who's better known as Chico, is working with the county to turn borderline delinquents around before they become serious criminals, and Sandy Kangas was hired by the FBI. The new officer assigned to the neighborhood is Tracey Saxton, and she's on a first-name basis with residents already.

The city has purchased a building once owned by a senior-citizens' club for a PACT office. Several police officers live in Crosland Park with their families, and Mr. LeDuc said the city has ordered more patrol cars so off-duty officers can take theirs home.

Although a recent slaying, still unsolved, rocked the community, Crosland Park has a low crime rate. The homicide helped to get a city ordinance to make bars close at 2 a.m. One close to the community was staying open until nearly dawn, and its early morning patrons were a serious problem, said Mae O'Rourke, association president. That bar's closed now.

Public Works Director Larry Morris is working with South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. to get old streetlights replaced with brighter, modern versions. The city also is telling absentee owners of neglected property that it will tear them down for only $200 - a program that's demolished 20 dilapidated houses citywide so far. And the city has bids and a contractor to redo an old playground.

The new park will include a basketball court, said Lt. Karl Odenthal, who is raising two children in Crosland Park. There also will be a gazebo and benches, where parents will be able to sit and watch their youngsters play on new equipment. A chain-link fence will separate the park from traffic on the Jefferson Davis Highway.

"We're in this for the long term," Mr. LeDuic said. "Just remember that this month's character trait is patience."

Aiken emphasizes a different trait each month.

The October neighborhood meeting showed how residents are helping wherever they can. One is volunteering to mow neglected lawns. Another, who serves on the Transportation Board, is promising to take care of one speeding problem - the Best Friend Express, which is the public bus system. Another is organizing litter pickup.

"People are excited about making a difference, and it shows," Lt. Odenthal said.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.