Fort Wayne’s Franklin School Park dedication a culmination of neighborhoods, government collaboration
To many people, the new Franklin School Park in Fort Wayne will look like a good place to play or to relax. To neighborhood leaders and others who helped make it happen, it means a lot more.
“It was truly a collaboration between grassroots and government,” said John Modezjewski, a resident of the adjoining North Highlands neighborhood and one of several neighborhood leaders who worked to keep the project moving forward.
Neighborhood residents and city officials will dedicate the park, 1903 St. Marys Ave., during an event at 11 a.m. Dec. 13 at the park’s recently completed pavilion.
Neighborhood leaders became involved about five years ago out of concern for what may become of the then-vacant former Franklin School, which stood on the site. The school was built in 1921 and was last used for students in 1981.
Fort Wayne Community Schools sold the building to the U.S. Navy, which used it for a U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Center. The Fort Wayne Police Department also used the building until moving out in April 2012, which left it vacant.
Neighborhood residents formed the Franklin Park Group to work on the issue, choosing that name because they wanted at least part of the property turned into a park. They also wanted to provide space for a Fort Wayne Police presence in their neighborhoods.
Franklin School Park gives them what they wanted and more.
The Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department developed plans that, after demolition of the school in December 2014, turned the entire school property into a park with sidewalks for walking, benches for sitting and a splash pad for summer fun.
A school maintenance building was remodeled into the pavilion, which includes an office for police to stop for a break and do to paperwork.
The project also included building a concrete patio area in front of the pavilion and a parking lot beside it.
In a nod to the site’s history and the memories of neighborhood residents who attended Franklin school, the parks department preserved the archways over school’s front and back doors as landscape features in the park.
Construction work was completed in two phases: The east half of the park, which includes the splash pad and preserved school archways, opened in late summer 2016. Work on the west half of the park began this past spring and was completed this fall.
Total project cost was about $1.8 million.
A lot of people helped along the way, including work by Sen. Joe Donnelly’s office to help get the property transferred from the Navy to the General Services Administration and then to the city of Fort Wayne, Modezjewski said.
The William J. and Bonnie L. Hefner Foundation donated $300,000 toward the cost of remodeling the pavilion, which is named the Dave Hefner Pavilion in honor of the couple’s late son.
“We now have one of the most beautiful parks it the city, with the pavilion,” said Bud and Jean Mendenhall, longtime leaders of the Bloomingdale neighborhood and that neighborhood association’s current president and treasurer, respectively.
Jean Mendenhall grew up in that area north of downtown and attended Franklin School, they said.
“The transformation she has seen with the historic arches, the pavilion and splash pad – you cannot ask for any better memories with an ending like the school turning into a beautiful, quiet park,” Bud Mendenhall said.
The Mendenhalls and Modezjewski, all of whom also are involved in the Neighborhoods United Group (NUG), said home values in their neighborhoods have gone up, and they think the park is a contributing factor.
“Our grandchildren will have a splash pad,” the Mendenhalls added. “With the trees, parents and older people will be able to sit, read and relax.”
The Mendenhalls, Modezjewski and Kate Smith-Shoemaker, the North Highlands neighborhood president and a NUG member, all also voiced appreciation for the inclusion of the police office in the pavilion.
“The presence of the police cars and police will be a benefit to all of our neighborhoods and Franklin School Park,” Smith-Shoemaker said. “Police will come and go at no specific time of day or night to increase their presence in the area.”
She believes the office shows neighborhoods’ appreciation for police officers’ work in their area and will build better relationships between residents and officers.
The park is an example of the good that can result when government and neighbors work with and listen to each other, Modezjewski said.
“It should be a template for how government deals with the neighborhoods,” he added.
RENTING THE PAVILION
The Dave Hefner Pavilion in Franklin School Park will be available for year-round use and rental.
The Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department will accept pavilion rental requests starting Dec. 18 for rental dates beginning Jan. 1, 2018. Rental rates are not set yet, but are scheduled for approval at the Dec. 14 meeting of the parks department’s board of park commissioners.
To reserve the pavilion, visit the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department at 705 E. State Blvd. during normal business hours, or by going to “http://www.fortwayneparks.org” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>www.fortwayneparks.org and, under “Online Services” in the navigation bar, click on the link for “Pavilion Reservations.”