Private philanthropists are providing a 2:1 match for a $100,000 city grant to replace a playground in a low-income neighborhood near downtown.

On the eastern side of the Ohio & Erie Canal behind the Henry A. Callis Tower in the Park East neighborhood, the $315,700 community project aims to reimagine a mulch playground and unused tennis courts to make the space comfortable and secure for visitors and residents, including many young children.

The reconstruction of the playground is scheduled to begin in October. It’ll be the fifth partnership between the city of Akron, local private organizations and Kaboom! Inc., a national outfit that engages local communities to reclaim and design recreational space.

Alpha Phi Alpha Homes, which built Callis Tower for low-income seniors, secured the $100,000 from the Akron Parks Challenge. The competitive grant program earned Mayor Dan Horrigan one of five Outstanding Achievement awards issued to large cities at the US Conference of Mayors’ annual meeting in June.

Adding to the city's contribution are beverage conglomerate Keurig Dr. Pepper with $108,000, the Ohio & Erie Canal Coalition with $72,700, the United Way of Summit County with $25,000 and the Knight Foundation with $10,000.

The playground project will gather input from residents in three meetings over the next month. Then three options for the playground will be voted on by a steering committee of fund providers and community members.

Anyone with ideas to share may call Amber Genet, vice president of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, at 330-374-5657 or email suggestions to agenet@ohioeriecanal.org.

The project is guided by the Akron Civic Commons, a collaborative effort to engage and lift up three neighborhoods along the Ohio & Erie Canal: Summit Lake, downtown and Park East, which was called Canal Park before the Rubber Ducks stadium was built.

In Park East, local residents advised the Civic Commons to install seating along the canal. The coalition painted 50-year-old water fountains that haven’t worked for decades. More recently, the group installed doors that automatically unlock at 9 a.m. and lock at 5 p.m. so the city would reopen public restrooms beside the tennis courts at the playground along the canal between West Bartges and West Thornton streets.

“I didn’t even know there were restrooms here,” said Michale Clancy, 18, who grew up in the nearby apartment buildings. “They were never open.”

Clancy and Aireona Brown, 19, would lean against the tennis court nets to chat with friends. No one ever played tennis. And the nets have been missing for years, they said.

“It should be a basketball court,” Brown said while walking with Clancy on Tuesday. “You don’t understand how many people will just come.”

The young women want to see less mulch and more structures on the “dead” playground. “It’s so small and there’s all these kids,” Clancy said. “My son would have a great time.”

On the swing set, a young boy pushed two little girls. None of them bothered with tree stumps and a log in the middle of the triangular playground.

In neon yellow vests, Civic Commons Ambassadors Joyce and Noron Rodgers took a break from welcoming visitors and policing the park for litter or vandalism. Behind them a pair of little girls pedaled tricycles on the tennis court.

“The kids love to come down and play. But they ain’t got a lot to play with,” said Joyce Rodgers, 67. “I see other playgrounds; and they’re all decked out.”

The Rodgers live in Callis Towers. They support anything but a basketball court. The hoops, they fear, would be overtaken by unruly teenagers and young men with too much energy and nowhere productive to put it.

Instead of inviting litter and fights, “I think what they should do is put a net up and bring someone in once a week to teach the kids to play tennis,” said Joyce.

The Rodgers said they’d like to see more programming like kickball to bring families and children together. Ultimately, they want to see the investment protected.

“I think if they’re going to spend $300,000, they need to put up cameras and start holding parents accountable for what their kids tear up,” said Joyce. Most kids respect the property, she said. A handful push a picnic table over to climb on the restroom building. A couple months ago, she looked out in the waters of the canal to see four composite deck chairs, which the Civic Commons donated for public use.

“Why do nice things if they keep damaging it?” she asked. “And I hate it because they do want to make it look nice.”

 

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.