By Alex Tekip
ST JOHNS- Where once stood a busy water recreation area now exists an empty shell in the ground. Where now exists an empty shell in the ground will soon stand a brand new 3,500-square-foot aquatic playground.
Since the closure of Veteran’s Memorial Pool in 2009, the St. Johns Spray Park Committee has been working towards achieving the $400,000 for the spray park set to replace it, slated tentatively to open in summer 2014.
“We’re still well off, but we don’t have the money to do projects like this,” said Bill Schafer, St. Johns Recreation Director and co-chair of the St Johns Spray Park Committee. “And so it takes interested citizens to do things.”
Schafer, along with other interested citizens, formed the spray park committee to help fund and encourage community involvement in the project.
Spray park committee member Bob Craig lives across the street from the city park, where the empty pool currently stands.
“I learned to swim at [Veteran’s Memorial] pool, and both of my kids, my son and my daughter, both learned to swim at that pool,” he said. “We care about it. We’re kind of sad that it’s closed. I think the spray park would be a great use for it.”
Schafer said the pool had many problems that accumulated over the years, which ultimately lead to its closing.
“At the time [Veteran’s Memorial Pool] was state of the art, it was built with all donations and was the only thing in the area,” he said. “But over the years, we’ve always had to go through and patch it. A lot of it was maintenance and the numbers [of visitors] also decreasing, cause it got to the point where so many people had their own pools. We didn’t have anything that attracted people to it, and that was our biggest thing.”
Suzie Fromson, co-chair of the spray park committee, said the old pool is an “eyesore” at the entrance to the city park.
Fromson said the new spray park would make the city park entrance, and community as a whole, a very vibrant place.
“It [would] be something exciting and new right at the entrance to our city park…it would be so awesome to have a [water-related] place where kids of certain age groups can…ride bikes or walk to somewhere where they could have fun in town,” she said.
The biggest source of funding for the project would come from a grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“Our biggest thing money-wise that we’re looking at is trying to get a grant from the DNR,” said Schafer. “We applied [in 2012] and we were unsuccessful. We’re looking at trying to get $150,000-$200,000 from them as a matching grant. If we don’t get the DNR grant, we’re looking at trying to get [a spray park] that’s smaller than this.”
Schafer said there are no plans to charge for use of the spray park, and the DNR grant would only cover the cost of equipment.
“The grant would cover the spray park equipment itself,” he said. “If we’re looking to get $150,000, we have to get $150,000 to match it.”
The spray park committee is currently setting up fundraisers to take place throughout the year in order to achieve the funds to match the grant, if they receive it.
Some of the fundraisers include: a Drive One For UR Community event with the local Ford dealership in April, a kite fly at Uncle John’s Cider Mill in May, a 5K race at Uncle John’s Cider Mill in June, and a pending fundraiser with the St. Johns Shell gas station. There was also a benefit at Conexions Comedy Club in Lansing on March 2.
Adults are not the only ones involved in the spray park funding effort.
“ [The] Oakview [South] Elementary [student council] started a spray park drive to raise money for their school to buy a brick [to put in the park],” said Fromson during a Feb. 12 spray park committee meeting.
Sara Koenigsknecht, 2nd grade teacher and student council adviser at Oakview South Elementary, said the student council came up with the idea to raise money for the spray park all on their own.
Koenigsknecht said the “penny war” that the student council set up between the grades ran from Feb. 11 to Feb. 15 with the winning class receiving a pizza party as their prize.
Koenigsknecht said even with Feb. 11 being a snow day, the students were able to surpass their goal of $100 by raising $700.
Koenigsknecht, a resident of St. Johns, said it is refreshing to see individuals of all ages coming together to help fund the spray park.
“How excited [the children] are all are, it’s a pure, innocent excitement they have,” she said.
Schafer said he believes the community coming together is a cornerstone value for the spray park project.
“The main thing is trying to build something that the veterans that built the pool back in the 1950’s would be proud of,” said Schafer. “We want to try and keep that same thing where families can come here and have fun and be in a safe environment.”