Applause broke out Monday night after the Oviedo City Council approved the paving of Boston Cemetery Road, a project a group of Oviedo residents has been requesting for years.
The dirt road, pocked with potholes, is the only access point to Boston Hill Cemetery. Prince Butler Boston donated the cemetery’s five acres of land to Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in 1927 so that the Black community, which was segregated from Oviedo’s white residents at the time, could have a place to bury their dead. Funerals still take place there today and many people visit their lost loved ones regularly.
The road improvement, budgeted for $125,000, was one of nearly 50 projects included in the approved plan for the $21 million in federal COVID relief funding allocated to the city of Oviedo, which is split into two installments.
The city received the first installment of $10.4 million from the federal government’s American Recovery Plan Act on Oct. 2. The second installment is expected to be received this year.
The main group behind the push to pave the road is Oviedo Citizens in Action, a nonprofit serving local low-income families.
“We’re very thankful for the help of the Council to hear our plea and to actually see what we were asking for wasn’t a whole lot. It’s a small roadway. I know my family goes out there to visit and clean (the grave sites). My wife has her mother out there, her father and several others,” OCIA Treasurer Danny McKinney said.
OCIA member Deb Jepson said she hopes the price tag will include some landscaping along the roadway, such as a tree canopy. (Jepson is the spouse of Christopher Jepson, an OCN Board of Directors member.)
The road is within city limits but the land the cemetery occupies is an exclave of unincorporated Seminole County land. That could change soon.
Antioch Church Administrator Stanley Stone said the paperwork to annex the property into the city was filed last week, and he expects the annexation to come before the Council for consideration soon. He said the annexation will allow the cemetery to enjoy city services, such as fire and police protection.
As for the road, he said, “We just all needed to come to an understanding about the necessity of the road and I think we’ve done that. It allows the city to put some much-needed dollars in the Black community.”
Jepson said the annexation will also allow The Oviedo Preservation Project to erect a historical marker at the cemetery honoring Boston’s role in providing land for and developing the cemetery.
New community center
A $2.5 million community center is also on the list that was approved on Monday night.
There are no details available for the project yet but Deputy Mayor Bob Pollack said he envisions a community center with senior programming, such as pickleball, so that seniors can use the center during the day and other residents can rent the space for events in the evenings.
Mayor Megan Sladek said there have been discussions about the new community center being built on land along Oviedo Boulevard that’s currently owned by Fountain Head Baptist Church. She said the city’s possible purchase of that land is expected to be discussed at the next City Council meeting, March 21.
Internet access in Round Lake Park
Also on the list is $21,000 to provide free wifi Internet service to Round Lake Park – another project for which OCIA has been advocating.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, students could not attend school in person and were expected to learn online. McKinney said there were students whose families did not have Internet. OCIA paid the Internet bills for five families experiencing that hardship until the school year ended.
“Our overall goal was that if we ever ran into this type of problem again, they could come out and sit at the pavilion there at Round Lake,” McKinney said.
Outside of an emergency situation, having Internet access at that park will help OCIA in their mission to tutor and mentor children, McKinney said. The group has been meeting at the park for the past 15 years but have had to pay for a hotspot connection for Internet access.
Public Safety building improvements
Several Council members said they were concerned that the $200,000 earmarked for improvements to Oviedo’s Public Safety Building, which houses its police department, is not sufficient to address the condition of the facility.
“We know that at some point we’d like to get a new one, down the road,” said Councilman Jeff Boddiford. “Is that enough for that over there? From my understanding, it’s not in the best shape.”
“It’s really rough,” Councilwoman Natalie Teuchert said. “I would like to make them more comfortable.”
There was an effort in the past to fund a new facility but right after a referendum was passed to fund $11.4 million, a space needs study was done that showed that a bigger facility would be needed, which would cost anywhere from $25-$28 million.
City Manager Bryan Cobb said he’s working with developers and property owners on a possible public-private partnership to get a new facility.
He said he’d like to conduct another needs study for the building and bring a new plan to Council this summer.
“The building’s falling apart and I know we’re throwing $200,000 at it to renovate some carpets and stuff but we need to either do something dire soon or get a new building done,” Teuchert said.
Making a priority list
The Council asked city staff to prioritize the list so that the most important items get funded first.
Teuchert said she hopes this funding will help the city catch up on its maintenance schedule.
“I don’t want every year at the end of the budget cycle to have to push everything back to the next year, the next year, the next year,” she said. “If we could get a doable maintenance plan, I would like to see that going forward now that we’re tackling these big-ticket items.”
Sladek asked that the projects involving adding new structures that would require future maintenance, such as the $250,000 allotted for playground shades at city parks, be pushed to the bottom of the list. That way, she said, if maintenance needs for existing structures arise in the meantime, the funds can be used there instead.
“As long as we can prioritize and not add anything new unless absolutely necessary and people are asking for it,” she said.