A Detroit charter school hopes to unlock tens of thousands in grant dollars toward an accessible neighborhood park – but it only has a few days left to fundraise and needs more help from the community.
The James and Grace Lee Boggs School is seeking donations to aid in the construction of Boggs Park, a playground in the Islandview neighborhood that will be inclusive for people with physical and mental disabilities. As of Monday afternoon, the school had raised nearly $66,000 of its $75,000 goal, with the fundraiser closing July 17.
The crowdfunding platform Patronicity launched the Boggs Park campaign in May as part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) Public Spaces Community Places initiative, a grant match program that uses crowdfunding to revitalize public spaces. The MEDC will provide a matching grant of $75,000 toward the project if the community can raise the other $75,000. If Boggs falls short, the school will not receive the matching grant, but it will keep the raised funds, MEDC spokesperson Kathleen Achtenberg said.
Either way, Boggs planning team member Shoshanna Utchenik is determined to bring the park to fruition.
“Boggs Park construction is already underway despite a wild ride through the pandemic and all kinds of surprises that came with it,” she said in an emailed statement to BridgeDetroit. “The community making Boggs Park happen has been so generous and has hustled so hard that we have every confidence we will make this happen together.”
Those interested in donating can visit patronicity.com/project/boggspark.
An initial $150,000 in funding for Boggs Park was donated by The Kresge Foundation. For Michigan charter schools, these types of projects can be more challenging to complete than with a traditional public school, since they are almost entirely supported by state tax revenues and managed by an outside body called an authorizer. The Boggs School is operated by Eastern Michigan University.
The Boggs Park project envisions a playscape, public art and native Michigan gardens. It will be located on school grounds at 7600 Goethe Street, but the space will be open for residents in the neighborhood to use as well, said Programming Coordinator Anjela Bloom. She said Boggs School wants a park where the community can gather and feel welcomed, regardless of their size, age and ability.
“When we were considering the elements of the park and meeting with community members, with school staff, with parents and students; we realized that we wanted to make sure that we had options for all different types of abilities,” Bloom said. “Not every kid likes to run around and scream. Some kids are more reserved and need a quieter space. So, having different sensory options was really important to us.”
Principal Julia Putnam added that an accessible park is part of the school’s mission to nurture creative and critical thinkers who contribute to the well-being of communities.
“Inclusion is one of the habits that we ask our kids to practice and so, it’s a bit of us trying to ‘walk the talk,’ if you will,” she said.
Islandview resident Melissa Klein, 37, has a child going into the eighth grade at Boggs and said she’s excited to have the park in her neighborhood. The only other park close by, she said, is Butzel on Kercheval Avenue.
As a nurse at Hutzel Women’s Hospital, Klein sees many children with disabilities and is glad that there will be an inclusive space in her own neighborhood.
“There’s a lot more kids in our community that have disabilities than they realize and there’s not a lot of places to take those children,” she said. “So, it’s exciting to see the park make space for them.”
Accessible for all
The crowdfunding campaign will assist with the installation of park equipment, 5,400 square feet of Poured in Place (PIP) rubber surfacing under the play equipment and wheelchair and stroller-accessible benches and tables. Additional funds raised will support artist installations and improve a safe passageway through the parking lot for pedestrians and wheelchair users. The project is designed by Detroit landscape architecture firm, livingLAB.
Boggs Executive Director Amanda Rosman declined Monday to say which parts of the park would be delayed if the matching grant does not come through.
Installing PIP surfacing alone will cost $125,000, Bloom noted. However, it’s a better alternative to wood chips, which are not considered compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination.
The park design calls for traditional playground equipment with accessible pieces, like a two-level spinner called Global Motion where kids can sit inside the contraption or outside of it and a Friendship Swing, which two people can use at the same time.
Other accessible features include Log Land, where kids can use logs and other natural materials to make their creations. And, for those who get overstimulated by noise and large groups of people, there will be a quiet area away from the playground called Hammock Haven, Bloom said.
“It’ll create a lovely shaded quiet area where people can sit and breathe, they can rest and talk to a friend, they could play a board game, do some homework…just be out there and have that quieter space,” she said.
A continuous looping path that goes through a native Michigan garden and outdoor classroom space is also in the plans, Bloom said.
“Something that we’ve noticed a lot in Detroit communities is that the sidewalks are not adequate,” she said. “People have to walk in the street. There’s glass, there’s broken up pavement, it’s uneven. And so, people said that they wanted to have a space where they could walk around.”
Bloom said school staff talked with each class and asked students what they wanted to see at the park and then sifted through students’ responses for the features that kept popping up the most.
“We had a sheet for the younger grades, so they got to draw whatever they wanted to see in the playground space,” she said. “For our older students, we used post-it notes, so they wrote down elements they wanted to see on the playground. Then we put it on a big board and grouped them into categories.”
The Boggs School conducted a similar process for its community outreach sessions, asking Islandview residents what was important for them to have in the park. Putnam said the sessions were a great way for the school community to get to know their neighbors.
“Often, when organizations come into the neighborhood, they come in and just assume that they know what people want and people aren’t used to being asked, so I think it was a real effort of respect on our part to just come in and not colonize the place,” Putnam said. “And then they know this product is going to be something that people care for because they helped design it, they are in anticipation of it and it’s what they truly want.”