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Wish list includes $300,000, making locations handicap accessible

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The Columbus Park Foundation hopes to raise more than $300,000 to fund improvements next year at four neighborhood parks.

April Williams, project and resource development director for Columbus Parks and Recreation, said the playground initiative has been dubbed Race to Play and is the result of a partnership between the Park Foundation, the city of Columbus, the Tony Stewart Foundation and Carter’s Kids.

Carter’s Kids is a nonprofit founded by celebrity carpenter Carter Oosterhouse, who gained popularity on TLC’s “Trading Spaces.” The organization provides support to supply areas in need with safe playgrounds.

The estimated cost to improve all four parks and to make them accessible to children of all ability levels is $632,000. Williams said the Park Foundation has received a $45,000 Community Development Block Grant, plus about $300,000 in public funds from the City of Columbus, meaning the remainder must come from private or corporate donations.

In the Race to Play initiative, four neighborhood parks — Pence Street Park, Ninth Street Park, Morningside Park and Mead Village — will be upgraded to become handicap accessible.

“This will open up the possibility for more special-needs programming,” said Katia Hatter, marketing director for Columbus Parks and Recreation.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for all four parks is tentatively planned for May 8, provided funding becomes available.

Carter’s Kids has committed to making improvements to Morningside Park and bringing Oosterhouse and his wife, actress Amy Smart, to the ribbon-cutting, provided they are able to raise the estimated $60,000 necessary to build the park.

Quay Chilcotte, executive director for Carter’s Kids, said that they are actively looking within their network of national and regional contacts to fulfill this need, and local corporate donations are welcome as well. Chilcotte said that branding opportunities, including park signage or promotional material for company websites, are available for corporations that wish to make donations.

“We are very excited about this project, and we hope the money comes through,” Chilcotte said, adding that he is unaware of another community that is working to improve several parks on this scale at once. “We would feel very blessed to be a part of this project.”

Pam Boas, mother of racing legend and Columbus native Tony Stewart, said that fond memories of Mead Village park led her to get the foundation involved in the project.

“My children used to play in Mead Village,” Boas said. “We need good, safe, accessible places for children to play today.”

Boas said that while the Tony Stewart Foundation typically supports children with critical and chronic illnesses, it has committed to contributing $30,000 toward the improvements at Morningside due to the emphasis on making the park accessible to children with disabilities.

“We will raise that money one way or another,” Boas said. “We know a lot of good people.”

Another project Williams said the Park Foundation hopes to support in the coming year is the Hamilton Center Ice Arena.

“We are still doing some research to ensure that the expansions include everyone’s best interest,” Williams said, adding that a budget will be determined in the coming weeks once the needs are assessed.

Williams said that more than $800,000 in public funds already has been allocated repair the structure’s roof, make electrical upgrades and repair exterior granite. Possible additional improvements that would require private funding include expanding the locker rooms and making the restrooms handicap accessible.

For Eric Neal, executive committee member for Columbus Youth Hockey, Hamilton Center is more than just an ice rink he remembers skating in as a kid.

“When I think about Hamilton as a facility, I like to tell people to forget about the ice rink for a minute,” he said, adding that the center has played host to numerous junior high dances, after-prom parties, dog shows, garden shows and many other events over the years.

Neal also added that in its 50-year history, the ice center, which is also on Columbus’ architectural tour, has hosted hockey greats such as Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe.

“There are some legends that came through here,” Neal said. “It really is a gem in our community.”

Williams said she hopes community members will take a moment to think about the parks and facilities they make use of and appreciate and consider donating toward those entities.

“It really leads back to ‘what’s your passion?’” she said.

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