October is National Disability Awareness Month, and appropriately enough, it was October, two years ago in 2007, that the Erie County Community Foundation received an Access to Recreation grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.
Access to Recreation is a $15 million initiative of the Kellogg Foundation to make parks and other recreational facilities accessible for people of all abilities. Initially, grants were made to Michigan community foundations, and two years ago, the program was expanded to encompass the four state area, including Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. Four grants were made to Ohio community foundations, and the Erie County Community Foundation was honored to be a recipient.
The Community Foundation worked in partnership with the City of Sandusky and Erie MetroParks on our Access to Recreation project. We considered ourselves fortunate in being a Great Lakes community, and having so much opportunity for recreation. Our planning committee talked about accessible beaches and trails, fishing piers and boat launches, picnic tables and shelters. We were like Goldilocks. Some projects were just too big and some too small. Then one day a committee member suggested we transform the city greenhouse into a community gardening center, and that was the idea that felt just right.
We met with nonprofit service providers and representatives from the City’s ADA Advisory Board. We sent out a public suthe greenhouse. Even the greenhouse mascot benefitted from the project, receiving a new bird cage through a grant from the Don and Michael Lenhart Donor Advised Fund.
When we brought in the architects to help us design our project, we asked them to give us a master plan for the entire Huron Ave Park space, which includes the greenhouse campus and three adjacent parcels of land. We knew that we couldn’t afford to do everything at once, but we wanted a plan that we could grow into over time. As a part of that plan, the City of Sandusky allocated $125,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to build an accessible Splash Pad, which opened this summer. Community Foundation board and staff passed out beach balls, sunglasses and juice boxes to 150 very happy children who attended the grand opening, and it was one of the best days we’ve all ever spent at the Community Foundation. Next spring, plans are to install new playground equipment, with additional CDBG funds and volunteer labor.
We haven’t calculated an exact dollar figure for the in kind support that the City has provided to the Access to Recreation project, but it is many, many hours and without their help, we could not have done this project. The total in kind support and cash investments in the greenhouse campus and now extending over to Huron Ave Park are more than $1,000,000. The master plan for the Huron Ave Park calls for a children’s garden, a skateboard park, a new basketball court, and picnic area. Our goal is to make this a first class urban park, with something for everyone, and fully accessible for everyone.
When trying to decide which Access to Recreation project we should undertake, there were a number of reasons why we selected the greenhouse renovation. Gardening is the number one leisure time activity in the U.S. Gardening provides health and social benefits. Anyone, of any age, ability or socio-economic status can garden--- and the wonderful thing about the greenhouse is that gardening here is a year long activity. This project is unique and unduplicated in Erie County, no other community gardening center exists here. This community loves its old buildings, and nothing makes a Sanduskian happier than retro-fitting an old treasure with new purpose and new life. The first Sandusky Greenhouse was built on this property in 1908. As a result of our Access to Recreation project, for the first time in its 100-year history, this facility is fully accessible and open to the public. We launched a growing volunteer group, with activities that are meaningful and vital. Sandusky loves Washington Park, the jewel of a park in the heart of the historic downtown---and all of those plants and flowers (100,000 each year!) are grown here at the greenhouse. Many this year were tended by our core group of volunteers.
These are all good reasons to have renovated the greenhouse, but ultimately, the deciding factor was that this project had rvey and held focus groups to get feedback from the community. We talked about all the possible projects we might undertake, and when we started talking about the greenhouse, people responded with enthusiasm.
The Kellogg Foundation grant of $267,000 required a local match of $208,000. Thanks to the generous support of Erie County foundations and donors, we met the match, and then some. We appreciate very much the generous support of those who contributed the matching dollars: the Dorn Foundation, the Frohman Foundation, the Frost Parker Foundation, the Mylander Foundation, the Wightman Weiber Foundation, the Zion Lutheran Foundation, and the Community Foundation. Special thanks to the Friends of the Greenhouse for their contribution.
In the course of implementing our project other needs came to light. The City of Sandusky invested about $275,000 to replace the heating system, walls, and retractable shades, all in an effort to go green and save on energy costs. The Dorn and Frost Parker Foundations granted $30,000 to fix the leaky roof on the garage. Mrs. Parker established a Sandusky Horticulture Endowment Fund for operating support of the greenhouse. The Zion Lutheran Foundation granted $2,000 to install a new accessible drinking fountain, and a utility sink for garden clean up. The Frohman Foundation granted $9,000 to upgrade all of the accessible parking in the downtown Sandusky area, including new signage, paint and curb repair. All of these foundations, and also the Murray and Murray Foundation and the Stein Foundation, have provided an additional $11,000 for the park benches for the pergola and outdoor garden areas at the potential to take on a life of its own, long after the grant funding has ended. When we started talking to people about the project, they immediately responded with ideas of how they could use the facility. It was clear that this idea had captured the attention and sparked the imaginations of our residents. We believed that if we built it, they would come--- and they have--- and we believe that they will continue to come, until one day, we hope that no one will remember a time when this greenhouse wasn’t a community gardening center.
We are grateful to the Kellogg Foundation for designating a portion of their grant for an endowment fund for future Accessible Recreation projects throughout Erie County so that we can continue this initiative on a long term basis.
On October 29, 2009, the Community Foundation officially “gifted” the improvements that we have made to the greenhouse to the City of Sandusky. To commemorate the occasion, Barb Hanck, President of the Community Foundation presented Mayor Craig Stahl with an engraved rock with a message that says it all: “BLOOM.”