BELLEVILLE, Ill. — An 18-year-old with an interest in engineering saw a vacant lot in his neighborhood as an opportunity to build something from the ground up.
“I just did a quick sketch of a park and, I don’t know, they just approved it,” said Nick Arteaga.
Jim Schneider, director of Human Resources, Training and Community Development, said before he received Arteaga’s design, the city had its own plans for the lot.
“Nick’s concept is actually more elaborate,” Schneider said. “The young man’s got a good sense of the big picture for such a young man.”
Schneider said the “big picture” includes neighborhoods and community members who come together to create what it is they see a need for.
Arteaga said he found out about the unused lot through volunteering in the community. Being of German descent, he designed a German Heritage Garden.
“It’s hard to describe,” Arteaga said. “They have one middle area, and they have lots of flowers.”
The park will be located at 110 N. 10th St. near West C Street. Arteaga hopes it will benefit the seniors at the Belleville Senior Citizen’s Club, which is near the lot.
He designed a walking path shaded by trees, which wraps around the perimeter and connects to the center of the lot, and made plans for an exercise center for the seniors.
The lot will be known as Gass Park, named after the Gass family who owned and donated the property.
Arteaga plans to involve students from Belleville West High School, from which he recently graduated, in the construction of the park. He would like to see the art club design a fountain to be placed in the center of the park while students in welding classes design and build a bike rack.
He spoke to Belleville Township High School District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier who will have Arteaga speak to classes when the school year starts in the fall.
“I’m hoping they’ll be interested. We’ll see.”
Benches at the park will be roofed with solar panels designed by Arteaga to power the fountain.
“I took a (photovoltaics) and wind-power class a long time ago and I still remember my solar panel stuff,” he said.
In the future, Gass Park could be the site of a community garden, Schneider said, if the neighborhood agrees to keep it up.
Arteaga said the park should be finished by 2014.
Development of the park began July 11 when volunteers from across the nation traveled to Belleville as part of a Christian youth conference in St. Louis. The volunteers, along with Arteaga and members of the community, constructed the walking paths.
Arteaga’s mother Donna Mauno, a Belleville Neighborhood Partnership leader for the zone that encompasses the Pleasant Hill area, was in attendance. She said she couldn’t be more proud of what her son is doing.
“Can’t you tell by my smile?” Mauno said.
The Pleasant Hill Neighborhood Watch agreed to hold a fundraiser to help Arteaga’s vision reach completion, Mauno said. They plan to host a five-mile Volksmarch. Mauno said all of the money they raise will be used toward the purchase of building materials for Gass Park. Schneider said the people in the neighborhood are actually saving the city money in the long run by transforming this lot with funding from supporters.
Arteaga said watching his design evolve beyond a “quick sketch” before his eyes made it all real.
“I’m a little surprised because I just volunteered and had time to draw it up,” Arteaga said. “I didn’t think I’d have all this to do and responsibility along with school, but it’s turned out pretty good so far. Everybody’s actually working and doing stuff.”
Arteaga will be a freshman this fall, beginning his studies through a dual program at Southwestern Illinois College and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He said he wants to stay involved in the project even after he begins college.
He wants to study aerospace engineering to build planes in the future. For now, he’ll settle with building gardens.
“I just love engineering,” he said.
PHOTO: In this July 11, 2013 photo, Nick Arteaga, left, of Belleville, Ill., is joined by volunteers to help finish the project he designed for Gass Park in Belleville The project takes an empty green space and adds a walking path, that will be complemented with future benches, flowers, and art work. (AP Photo/Belleville News-Democrat, Derik Holtmann)