Council President Darlene Harris has set aside $400,000 over the past two years to make repairs to the Wilksboro Avenue Footbridge in Brighton Heights. (Photo/Kelly Thomas)

In the recent flurry of attention over her unexpected rise to city council president, Darlene Harris has kept an even bigger surprise in her back pocket. It appears the councilwoman has earmarked an unusually large $2.6 million portion of the city’s $53.7 million 2010 capital budget for District 1 projects.

Many of the projects, Harris said, have been in the wings for years. For some, she’s set aside money in past years, but it’s always disappeared from the regular budget. This year, she’s determined to get the projects rolling.

“I think this has just been vice versa,” said Harris, who has often supported the neighborhood projects of other council members.

The project nearest the council president’s heart is the restoration of the spring in Spring Hill, where she grew up. When she was young, she said tourists would come from all over the area to get fresh water from the spring, but it’s become contaminated.

Last year, she set aside $50,000, and this year she set aside another $50,000 for a total of $100,000. That money will be used to fix up the spring building, as well as possibly relocating the spring’s flow.

Nearby Troy Hill will receive money for two different projects. The first is opening a fire fighters’ museum in the historic Troy Hill Firehouse, which currently houses city police.

Harris again reserved $50,000 last year and this year for the project, which will not involve much work. She said some fire fighters have saved relics they are willing to donate to the museum, and the International Association of Fire Fighters would be heavily involved.

“It just seemed like it would be a wonderful location,” Harris said, because it’s the oldest firehouse in the city.

Community groups are interested in opening a fire fighters’ museum in the Troy Hill Firehouse, which is the oldest in the city and was built in 1901. (Photo/Kelly Thomas)

The other Troy Hill project is the Cowley-Goettman Center, which used to house the community pool and senior citizen center as well as public restrooms. The center is closed because of leaky pipes and a leaky roof, but Harris hopes the $100,000 she’s set aside, in addition to $50,000 from last year’s budget, will be enough to re-open the bathrooms and fix the roof.

The largest amount Harris set aside, $1 million, will be divided among four Northside business districts: East Ohio Street in Deutschtown, Lowrie Street in Troy Hill, Perrysville Avenue in Perry Hilltop and California Avenue in Brighton Heights.

“I’ll be working with each of those community groups as well as the [Northside] Leadership Conference,” she said.

Brighton Heights will receive money for two different projects, including the renovation of the historic Wilksboro Avenue Footbridge. In 2009, the city set aside $200,000 to demolish the bridge, but Harris worked to take it off the demolition list and added $200,000 to the repair budget this year for a total of $400,000.

The community’s deck hockey rink in Marmaduke Park is up for a new floor. In addition to Harris’s $60,000 contribution, State Sens. Ferlo and Fontana, as well as State Rep. Walko have promised some money to not only replace the current floor, but to put in a larger, regulation-sized floor.

“It’s really not safe right now,” Harris said.

The council president also set aside $50,000 for the Community Alliance of Spring Garden/East Deutschtown for general development projects.

“It just concerns me that I haven’t seen any movement on that community being developed,” Harris said.

The new council president is also concerned with wall, step and fence repairs in District 1, and reserved $100,000 for that purpose.

The second largest chunk of money Harris reserved in the 2010 budget is $960,000 for demolition of abandoned and condemned buildings. That sum will cover the demolition of 120 structures that the city promised it would take down in previous years, but never did.

Citing her love for animals, Harris also set aside $50,000 for the city’s spay and neuter program, which makes those services available free to city residents. Some of the total budget for the project will be used to spay and neuter feral cats to prevent them from multiplying.