Washington Heights

A splash pad holds promise of opportunity for those who live near Claude Evans Park in Battle Creek

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.

To the casual observer, a splash pad may be little more than cascading sprays of water for children and families seeking relief from the heat. But residents who live near these venues see them as a sign of hope and opportunity.

J.R. Reynolds, a nonprofit consultant, lives in the Washington Heights neighborhood within walking distance to Claude Evans Park, the site of a future splash pad. He says the water attraction will provide another option for children, including his 6-year-old son and 8-year-old, to be physically active in a positive atmosphere.

“My kids love swimming at the Y and in the lakes. But, this will be a different experience than being in a pool. And having it so close by bodes well for my kids to celebrate and have fun in the water,” Reynolds says. “Sometimes a backyard with a hose doesn’t do it.”

On Sept. 12 a groundbreaking ceremony for the splash pad took place at Claude Evans Park. The water attraction is expected to be ready for use in 2021.

Kelly Dillman is working with the Courtesy of the Claude Evans Splash Pad Committee.The splash pad will cost about $143,000 to complete, says Kelly Dillman, co-project manager and a member of the Claude Evans Splash Pad Committee. To raise the money, the committee is working with Patronicity, a national organization that empowers local placemaking projects through crowdfunding, access to matching grants, and hands-on project coaching.

The splash pad project is part of Patronicity’s Public Spaces Community Spaces program with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Mahala Clayton, Patronicity’s Michigan Director, says since 2014 when the program began, 252 projects throughout Michigan have been funded, including the Home Run Dog Park at Bailey Park that opened in August 2019.

Dillman says the Splash Pad Committee needed to raise $50,000 by the early part of November to receive a matching grant from Patronicity. It also required that $43,000 be secured before the fundraising effort could begin. The Battle Creek Community Foundation committed that $43,000, she says.

As of Monday (Oct. 12) with 26 days to go, $25,876 had been raised, according to the Patronicity website.

“We’re excited and glad about it and we're trying to beat the bushes to get organizations and businesses on board with this,” says Pastor Joe Hooper, with Faith Temple Church of God in Christ and chairman of Neighborhood Planning Council 2, which includes Claude Evans Park.

Patronicity’s Clayton says the matching grant aspect of the platform motivates people to donate.

“The idea that donations will be doubled by a sponsor is what encourages people to give to projects on our platform,” she says. “We don't have a minimum or maximum required to already be raised to participate in PSCP but applicants should come to use the program when they have a funding need of between $10,000 to $100,000 to complete their public space, as this grant match is intended to be the final portion of funding to complete the space and open it for public use.”

An idea becomes a reality

Dillman says Rev. Greg Williams and Fred Jones, who have run the Cereal City Hoopsters Summer Basketball Program at Claude Evans Park for many years, were the ones who came up with the idea for a splash pad at the park. Hooper says the idea progressed during conversations with Neighborhood Planning Council 2 residents who were canvassed about what they wanted to see in the neighborhood

“At some of the meetings people threw out ideas about projects we could do that involved beautification of homes and things that would add safety and security like streetlights,” Hooper says. “They thought a splash pad would be good for young people and seniors as well, adding to what was there to create a better park and more things to do at the park.”

The splash pad project began two years ago. Progress slowed when COVID-19 forced shutdown and restrictions. Through discussions with B.C. Community Foundation leadership, Hooper says he learned that they had been thinking about doing some work at Claude Evans Park.

“That’s when we knew we were on the right track and we got more people involved and established a committee and started meeting,” Hooper says.

Dillman’s involvement with the project is a continuation of her former job with the Battle Creek Police Department as a Community Outreach and Engagement Liaison. That job ended in September 2019 and she is now a consultant with the Southwestern Michigan Urban League.

Dillman says she built a lot of relationships with city residents during her time with the BCPD and when she had the opportunity to be part of the splash pad project, she joined the effort.

“I had a lot of loose ties and I could not not be a part of this,” Dillman says. “These relationships, the foundations, and things created didn’t die with that job. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. I always give it my all.

“I struggle with asking someone for anything at this time. People are hurting. They’re at home and don’t have food and they don’t know what’s going to happen with kids.”

Even so, she says she felt that organizers needed to press forward with the project because of what it will add to the neighborhood and to the lives of its residents and the community at large.

Reynolds says some people think the park is undesirable because of an undeserved reputation it has gotten for high numbers of criminal activity. “If you look at the police reports there’s not the kind of activities going on there that the perception of the park currently has,” Reynolds says. “On any given day there are kids playing on the equipment at the park.”

“It’s the least vandalized park in the city,” Dillman says. 

She says the splash pad is adding to and complementing something else in the city – Claude Evans Park – which she says is already a great park.

“But, it’s deeper than the splash pad. It’s giving people hope. When we speak about the narrative of Claude Evans Park, it’s about community and people, and changing that narrative,” Dillman says. “It’s about having fun and having a good time and that’s what we want you to have.

“It all feeds into spending time with your neighbors and to some degree networking.”

This was among the reasons that leadership with Van Buren Township, near Detroit, decided to add one of the newest splash pads in the state. The township’s splash pad, which is free and open to anyone in the community, is located in a park on a parcel of land that serves as a campus that includes township offices, the police department, a senior center, baseball diamonds, soccer fields, and pavilions, says Lisa Lothringer, Assistant Executive Director of the Van Buren Township Downtown Development Authority.

Pre-COVID, she says the splash pad, which opened in August 2019, was getting a lot of use.

“It represents the opportunity to bring those old-fashioned front porch visits into more urban areas,” Lothringer says. “It gives people a place where they can go as a family and meet and talk to other people and we’re trying to help them make those connections.” 

Community benefits

Like the splash pad in Van Buren Township, the one at Claude Evans Park will be free and open to anyone. Reynolds says it will be easily accessible to residents living nearby who don’t have transportation readily available to them and who can't get to a waterpark like Full Blast, in the city’s downtown area.

“Access is going to be very important because a lot of folks in this community don’t have transportation to get to other sites,” Reynolds says.

Clayton says the location is what makes the splash pad project so appealing.

“It’s in the Washington Heights neighborhood where there are so many children and families within walking and biking distance of the Splash Pad location. It's jungle motif and elements are also fun and inviting,” she says. A 17-foot tall giraffe, zebra water cannons, and a sprinkling palm tree will be included in the splash pad.

“I think that it will serve as a definite morale boost,” Reynolds says. “Typically, the north side does not get publicity or the kudos that it deserves, especially as a place that is livable and has a decent quality of life,” Reynolds says. “We’d love to put our best foot forward and have people from all over the community experience the northside neighborhoods.

“If indeed the traffic picks up to that park that in turn will facilitate greater opportunities for entrepreneurs to come up with greater ways to make a living without traditional sources,” Reynolds says. Food trucks, hot dog or snow cone stands, or pop-up shops where parents could purchase swim gear for their kids such as flip flops or bathing suits are the type of opportunity he says could be fostered when the use of the park picks up.

“Anything’s possible if people are innovative.”