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Development News

Roberto Clemente Park’s a natural: Two City departments collaborate on a remarkable park project

When the City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services Department began planning extensive infrastructure upgrades to control stormwater runoff in the Godfrey Avenue/Rumsey Street area, they sought out an unusual partner: Parks and Recreation. Their inquiry of whether Roberto Clemente Park could be a part of their plan has inspired one of the most innovative city park renovation plans to date.

“A couple of years ago, when they asked if there could be stormwater storage in the park, lightbulbs started going off,” says David Marquardt, director, City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation. “We said, ‘yes, but let’s look at this together to build in some opportunities that not only benefit storm water runoff but also benefit park users.’”

The resulting design will make Roberto Clemente Park one of the most fun places for kids to enjoy natural play and outdoor learning. The design was inspired by Grand Rapids’ involvement as a Cities Connecting Children to Nature cohort, a program of the Children & Nature Network. Rain gardens, bioswales, and tributary streams that cleanse and manage stormwater will double as educational sites and natural play areas. Students from adjacent Southwest Community Campus school will be able to walk down the steps to new outdoor classrooms.

“We started initial public outreach with the neighborhood and got some good feedback and direction,” Marquardt says. “This is a unique and distinct opportunity for Roberto Clemente Park, not only in building in some typical park improvements for this park space but doing so, in part, with the Department of Environmental Services.”

That community feedback has inspired several of the planned improvements. The existing skate park’s new elements will include connecting skate paths throughout the park. Reconstruction of the existing soccer field will improve drainage and extend the playing season. A new picnic shelter will give families and community members a place to host meals, parties, and events. An approved basketball court and bike racks are also part of the plan.

“Community members have had a lot of good ideas,” Marquardt says. “What I always find inspiring is community members’ stories, their deep interest in these park spaces, and how they can become more relevant for them as they think about using them with their families and their friends. These ideas aren’t necessarily coming from the Parks department but from the people that use these spaces, which is always the way we prefer to do our work.”

Marquardt notes that Parks and Recreation will host an upcoming series of community meetings to gather even more input from residents living near the park. If grant funds from the Michigan DNR come through in December of this year as hoped, construction on the project will commence the summer of 2019—and will take about six months to complete. The Department of Environmental Services will provide roughly $900,000 of the estimated $1.6 million price-tag. Between $300,000 and $400,000 will come from City millage funding and the remaining funding coming from grants.

“Since the millage passed in 2013, the City has invested roughly $8 million of those park millage dollars. While that is significant, what is inspiring is that we’ve leveraged those $8 million to capture another $4 million of outside funding to support park improvement projects,” he says. “Partnerships with the Michigan DNR, the City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services, local nonprofits, and private partners have really helped carry these park improvement projects so much further than we could go with park millage funding alone.”

Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Image courtesy of the City of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation

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