When Brenda Patterson and her partner Beejay bought their home on Fifth Avenue, on the outskirts of Port Alberni’s uptown, they knew it was for the long haul. Parents to four children ranging in age from 13 to just shy of one year, they were looking for somewhere to raise their family that would embrace small neighbourhood living.
But one thing is lacking, says Patterson, and that is a vibrant neighbourhood park.
When they first moved in, Patterson’s twin daughters, Mikayla and Kali, 10, were excited to live a block away from Weaver Park. They like to ride their bicycles and they like to play. But Weaver Park doesn’t have much to offer.
“It’s not even the actual structures but the lack of structures here,” Patterson said during a recent walk to the park. There is a set of monkey bars and a swing set meant for older children. The gully that lines one side of the park does have trails that are suitable for pushing a stroller, she said.
There are plenty of young families moving into the area that would use the park if it had a better playground. And some of the “riff-raff” using the park might be encouraged to move elsewhere if the park was busier, she said.
Mikayla and Kali have already been involved in a scary incident, riding their bikes less than a block away from home, when a man approached them and punched Mikayla in the face without provocation. It only galvanized Patterson’s resolve to create a better play area for her children.
She had a meeting with city officials about the park and was told it would cost thousands of dollars for play equipment.
Parks and recreation director Scott Kenny applauds Patterson’s efforts, and says revitalizing Weaver Park is a great idea — but there is no money in the city coffers to fund such a project.
“By the time a playground structure and amenities are considered, it’s $75,000 by the time we’re finished,” he said.
The park stretches about five acres, from Third to Fifth avenues and from Montrose to Melrose streets. It used to boast a wading pool, but the city—as with most other municipalities in B.C.—was forced to remove the pool and fill in the hole a few years ago.
The park doesn’t have much to offer families in the neighbourhood beyond a couple of old pieces of play equipment, some picnic tables and walking trails through the trees at the back of the property.
“I wouldn’t say it’s (in) disrepair, what’s there is there,” he said.
The ball diamond is neatly mowed, but not used so not kept in ball-playing shape, he said. The monkey bars received a fresh coat of multi-coloured paint this week, much to the delight of neighbourhood children, and the swing set is sturdy. Kenny said the city is looking at putting a sign up at the park.
Weaver Park is one of several “non-targeted” neighbourhood parks—meaning there is no money earmarked for improvements. He said these parks are maintained, and that’s about it.
“They need help but the money isn’t there to get it,” he said. Aside from Klitsa, where grant money allowed the city to put in a new playground, there hasn’t been new play euipment installed in more than two years. Williamson Park was upgraded in 2009, again with grant money, and the year before that it was the playground at Blair Park. Harbour Quay’s playground was added five years ago, he said.
“It’s nice if we can do one a year, but it doesn’t always work that way.”
Service clubs—which have helped upgrade parks in the past—are no longer in the position to fund such a large project, he added.
Kenny said the onus will be on Patterson to raise the bulk of money necessary to put in a playground, and he supports her efforts. His kids played at Weaver Park when they were younger and the park was busier, he said.
“I’d like to see something there too, because its a beautiful park. It’s not going to solve the issues with the neighbourhood that they’re having…it would at least give the kids in the neighbourhood something far better in terms of play value than what they have now.”
Patterson, who has the backing of several of her neighbours, has set up an account at the bottle depot to kickstart fundraising. City officials said they will not force a non-profit neighbourhood organization to raise 100 per cent of the funds, but there has been no commitment beyond some new paint, she said.
Patterson has also nominated the Weaver Park project with the website Let Them Be Kids, which helps fund playground projects in Canada.
In order to qualify for the 60-40 funding, she needs to have a committee. And she can’t do it alone. “It’s just a matter of catching somebody’s eye that has the experience, because I don’t have the experience,” she said.
For more information on Patterson’s campaign or for anyone wanting to be on the committee, join her Facebook page at Help ReBuild Weaver Park.