At $8,315, the crowdfunding campaign to “Rebuild Grand Rapids’ Sigsbee Playscape” is about halfway to its June 30 matching fund deadline of $29,500 (the first $10k earned will be matched by an anonymous donor)—which, if met, will earn the project an additional $29,500 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Public Spaces Community Places initiative.
Also known as Southwest Academic, the building space next to Sigsbee Park used to be part of the Grand Rapids Public School district and is now home to a number of community programs including the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative for preschoolers and the Spectrum Baby Scholars program. The adjacent playground—or Sigsbee Park—is now what’s classified as a “school park,” making it a community park of choice open to the public and members of the surrounding Eastown neighborhood.
“In the heart of every great community is a place where neighbors gather. Sigsbee Park and Playground is that place,” says Grand Rapids Public School Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal. ”We are eager to partner with the community to realize a shared vision of a bright and appealing new playground for the children, students and families of Eastown Neighborhood to play and thrive."
However, with playground equipment well past its peak beginning to fall into disrepair, plans to remove it are slated for this summer, threatening to leave a partially empty lot in its place and prompting organizations including The Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative, Carter’s Kids, Lake Michigan Credit Union and Grand Rapids Public Schools to partner with the MEDC to raise funds for its reconstruction.
The refurbished playground will include a new swing set, a play structure with a slide and climbing area, dragonfly and stock cary play pieces, outdoor learning benches, and a new safe, engineered wood fiber surfacing.
“Sigsbee Park and Playground has clearly been loved by Eastown Neighborhood families for many years,” says Dan Gilmartin, CEO and executive director of the Michigan Municipal League, one of the organizations behind the Public Spaces Community Places initiative alongside collaborators at the MEDC and Patronicity.
John Helmholdt is spokesperson for the GRPS, and says though some members of the Eastown community have expressed concern over the lack of communication between organizers of the project and community members, it was all a matter of timing, with funding falling into place and the project taking quick steps forward in order to finish construction before the preschool re-opens to students in the fall.
“We’ve been talking about Sigsbee and other parks for quite some time. We got a call from ELNC in the spring saying their federal licensing came in and some of the equipment is out of compliance and it needs to go, so at the point, it began to expedite things and we said, ‘this is happening sooner rather than later, before the summer,’” says Helmholdt, adding that shortly after, LMCU reached out to the organization offering to donate $65,000.
“It all happened very fast and we weren't sure how much money was available or whether we would be eligible for the state matching dollars until literally a few weeks ago,” he says, adding that GRPS has been in contact with the Eastown Community Association and its parks and greening committee more recently on the project, and so far has received their full support.
Right now, Helmholdt says GRPS is fighting a past record of negligence on the property, making some neighbors worry they may lose their voice in the matter as they felt they have in the past. However, he also says this GRPS—the one who met with the ECA’s greening committee, LMCU, ELNC, and the city’s parks department last night to discuss neighborhood engagement opportunities—is a much different GRPS than the community might be used to.
“GRPS sees Sigsbee as truly an opportunity to right some past wrongs and to re-engage with the neighborhood to redevelop this site as a school yard and neighborhood park,” he says. “We have been 100 percent transparent and forthcoming and will continue to do so. We certainly own and recognize how this property has not received the attention it needs nor have we been the best neighbors in the past. But that was then and this is now.”
To stay tuned about upcoming engagement opportunities for Sigsbee’s rebuilding, visit the Eastown Community Association online
or here on Facebook
. For more information on the project, or to make a donation before the June 30 deadline, visit the Rebuild Grand Rapids Sigsbee Playscape’s project page on Patronicity
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation