DOVER — It is a vision that Rev. Rita Paige has had for several years now — children playing in a safe environment and participating in educational programs within the confines of a sparkling new recreational center at Dover Park on the east side of the city.
Rev. Paige and other members of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance’s (IMA) Social Action Committee remain committed to seeing that vision through, especially considering that a previous recreation and activities center at Dover Park was razed by the city of Dover in 2014 with members of city council promising at the time that the facility would be replaced.
A master plan for Dover Park, crafted by Wilmington-based Whitman, Requardt and Associates, has touted the possibility of a one- to two-classroom modular building with restroom facilities that would cost the city an estimated $165,000.
That is not good enough, according to the IMA’s Social Action Committee.
“We need some positive activities and programs on the east side for the children,” Rev. Paige said. “You know, we’re always talking about those bad kids and always talking about drugs and crime. Well, we have to provide alternatives to crimes and having them build a building at Dover Park with programs can do that. I think if we organize a community partnership that we can do anything.”
While only seven people attended an organizational meeting regarding the future of Dover Park at the Transformation AME Zion Church at 702 Maple Parkway on Tuesday night, members of the Social Action Committee were not discouraged. This is just the start of getting people together to try and build a groundswell for the project, according to Rev. Paige.
“You have to be more positive than negative and as long as we get people involved in every area, as long as you have people willing to participate and wanting to be involved it will all pan out,” said Justina Brewington, who moved to Dover in 1988 from Milford. “The main thing is being positive.
“You can’t have negativity because you can’t get far with a bunch of negativity. People have to work together no matter what side (of the city) you live on because, after all, this is about the city of Dover and it’s all one city – everyone has to come together and make our city a better place.”
Brainstorming the facility
Rev. Paige is reaching out to residents of East Dover developments to brainstorm ideas with a survey regarding what they would like to see offered at a new parks and recreation center at Dover Park, located off White Oak Road.
The Social Action Commission’s Task Force of Mount Zion A.M.E. Church on Queen Street submitted a similar survey to Dover City Council in January 2014 of more than 300 residents as to what they wanted to see replace the former Dover Park Recreation Building.
The majority of 300 residents who participated in the Mount Zion task force’s survey agreed the old rec center at Dover Park needed to come down, with 246 in favor of its demolition. Almost as many, 234 respondees to the survey, wanted it replaced by a new modern building.
Margie Cyr, who served as Dover Parks and Recreation director last year, said studies show that a physical building in Dover Park is desired by the area’s residents.
She said that data collected during the 2015 Recreational Needs Assessment and the 2014 SAC Mount Zion Church East-Side Assessment were also used to supplement data gathered during the Dover Park master plan process.
“Each of the three processes identified the need for a physical building in Dover Park to be used for programs and activities in the park as well as accessible rest rooms as highly desirable,” Mrs. Cyr said.
“The 2015 Recreational Needs Assessment and the Dover Park Master Plan surveys revealed primarily the desire for physical and fitness-related activities such as a trail system for walking/biking, tennis, football, disc golf, camps, sports leagues, indoor recreation for basketball and volleyball, for example.”
However, a new Dover Park Recreation Building did not appear to be a component in Phase I of the master plan that was submitted to Dover City Council last year. Phase I of the Dover Park Master Plan is expected to take up to five years to complete at a cost of around $500,000.
The first phase of recommended improvements to Dover Park include: an asphalt multi-use loop trail system and pathway connections throughout the park; resurfacing of tennis courts and basketball courts and access points and trails from the east side of the park at Acorn Lane and Manchester Square and the west side at Mapleton Square and The Laurels.
The opening phase also covers park entrance enhancements at all existing and proposed official access points; clearing undergrowth near the main entrance and through the center of park in the hardwood forest area; removing large specimen trees that are hazardous and installing and monitoring three security cameras.
To the chagrin of the IMA’s Social Action Committee, the plan’s initial phase did not include a recreation building.
“I pretty much have given the vision for it and we’ve had discussion based around that and so what we want to do is then have another meeting inviting some of the churches and the civic organizations to come and together we can sit down and put a plan together,” Rev. Paige said. “We thought it was important to hear from this (East Dover) side of Dover.
“I’m excited about anyone who wants to join us, no matter what walk of life they’re from, because we all need to have some input.”
Rev. Paige said she wouldn’t be against having the city put the $165,000 proposed for the future modular facility in an account while fundraising efforts take place to raise additional funds that would make it a larger, more attractive recreational center.
“I worked in education, I worked as a foster parent, and just different things, and this is a facility that we desperately need on the East Side of Dover,” said Vivian King, who attended Tuesday’s meeting. “I know that it’s going to work out because it’s a good vision. If we stick with it and don’t get frustrated along the way it will work.”
Time for action is now
Jerry Emerson, secretary for the IMA Social Action Committee, is among those trying to get the community and city to come together to support a new Dover Park indoor recreational facility.
“The IMA Social Action Committee has been briefed and has been in repeated discussions with the city council, the mayor and the city staff about plans for the new building,” Mr. Emerson said. “All involved have repeatedly said that the city wants and needs to hear from East Dover residents.
“They want to hear what the residents would like to see in a new building, to include what type of programs, activities and functions should be found in a new building. Since the city will be examining plans and budgets during May, it is especially critical they hear from residents now.”
It is an issue that has lingered ever since the original Dover Park Recreation Building was demolished.
City Councilman Tim Slavin told the Delaware State News three years ago that he could see trouble brewing since that day.
“We didn’t want to see the building demolished until we knew that a new facility was going to take its place,” Councilman Slavin said, in February 2016. “We didn’t want to end up where we are today with people telling us what they need and not providing it for them, but here we are facing those same problems we tried to avoid.
“We definitely need something over there. We have parks out there and we need to try to find a way to utilize those parks or add different recreational programs. I’m not just thinking about the youth. I’m thinking about everyone, like senior citizens, who may want to have a nice place to walk and want different activities.”
So, even today, Dover Park remains in the bull’s-eye of the city’s recreation-needs debate. The park’s wooded 28.2 acres include softball fields, a playground, pavilions, basketball courts, tennis courts, disc golf and more.
Some city officials say budget constraints do not make it feasible to construct a large recreational facility at a park that is often feared by potential visitors due to criminal activity in the area, according to the master plan survey.
Ms. Brewington said it is those safety issues — particularly for the youth — that makes her lend support for the project.
“The children are our future,” she said. “Without the children there’s no future. We have to look out for the best interests of the children and their safety and well-being because every place is not always positive in their homes. We have people who are going to struggle and different scenarios.
“However, there’s some kids that just want to get away and be away from some things, and then you have children that need tutoring, children that want to be involved in soccer, baseball, and they should have the same thing everywhere, because after all, it’s still the city of Dover.”
Dover City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. has been a long-time proponent of cleaning up Dover Park’s image and bringing an indoor facility back to the park. While he will be stepping down as chair of the city’s Park and Recreation Enhancement committee in the coming weeks, he remains committed to the future of the park.
“I will not rest until there is an adequate facility (at Dover Park) that reflects the level of service that Schutte Park represents in the east side,” Councilman Sudler said. “Our constituents throughout the city of Dover deserve the same level of service that their tax dollars can afford.
“We are losing our youth to the streets and we must do all that we can to save them.”
Rev. Geraldine Johnson-Jones was one of those at Tuesday’s meeting eager to get the grass roots campaign for a new indoor facility at the park underway.
“I think it’s a great vision and I look forward to being involved and in working toward making it a reality,” she said. “You just keep on going forward, there’s no other choice.”
Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.