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December 12, 2012

State board recommends barrier-free park for grant

By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer

FRASER — News that a state board had recommended Fraser’s proposed barrier-free park project for a grant fell upon welcome ears within the Fraser community after it was announced Dec. 5.

The $300,000 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant will go to reimburse a major chunk of the infrastructure costs associated with eventually outfitting Fraser’s McKinley Park to accommodate people both with and without physical and sensory challenges.

Once complete, the park, located off Grove Street, in the city’s southwest corner, will be equipped with ramped playground structures compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But first, approximately $517,000 in projected infrastructure upgrades — including an ADA-complaint restroom, basketball court, bus loop, walkways and a larger parking lot — are needed to make it universally accessible. With the grant pending approval by the state Legislature, the addition of the infrastructure improvements could begin as soon as this spring.

The Fraser First Booster Club, the fundraising nonprofit behind the barrier-free park initiative, has been fundraising to match the grant since even before the application was submitted this past April.

On Dec. 4, representatives from the Fraser community — including Fraser First President Vania Apps, state Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren; state Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser; City Manager Rich Haberman; City Councilman Paul Cilluffo and others from Fraser First — attended a hearing before the board that recommends which projects receive the Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant. While there, Fraser representatives gathered with other grant applicants in a conference room at a Lansing hotel, making their final pitches.

The winners were announced the following morning. Within a few hours, news that the board had recommended the McKinley project for a grant spread throughout Fraser.

Fraser First, having fundraised since gaining nonprofit status in 2010, had garnered a more than 50-percent match in cash and in-kind contributions. The grant required a match of at least 25 percent.

Jon Mayes, DNR recreation grants manager, said the state Legislature typically approves the grant projects, as recommended.

This year, the DNR Trust Fund Board recommended 76 recreational development projects and land acquisitions to receive a total $23.5 million in grant funding.

Apps said had it not been for the contributions of donors, the effort wouldn’t have had enough money to hire a grant-writer, which ultimately proved integral to obtaining the Natural Resources  grant. She added that the project didn’t pick up steam until the group brought on a grant writer.

“(The Natural Resources   Trust Fund Grant) is a big grant, and no one seemed to know how to approach it,” she said. “There was really no other way we could build this park without using a grant writer.”

Linda Davis-Kirksey, the hired grant writer on the project, said the application process for the Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant was a lengthy, competitive one, beginning with the 300-page application that included maps and other documentation.

Throughout the next few months, Apps and Davis-Kirksey would appear at Fraser City Council meetings to update city officials about the progress of the grant application process.

A state grant agent visited the park this summer.

Then in August, Fraser First members were invited to give a presentation about their proposal to the Natural Resources Trust Fund board in Lansing. Davis-Kirksey said this presentation ultimately helped clinch the grant.

In September, the city, acting as the project’s fiduciary, received another good sign: a letter from the state, asking for more information to supplement the grant application.

All that work eventually earned the project a point scoring that ranked the 18th highest out of the 140-plus projects vying for Natural Resources Trust Fund Grants, Davis-Kirksey said.

In addition to the state lawmakers, Haberman and Davis-Kirksey, Karen Silverthorn, a special education teacher and Fraser First member, also spoke before the grant board.

“I knew, as a (special education) teacher, who potentially would visit this park,” she said. “I talked about the fact that I’ve been in special education for 25 years, what I’ve experienced working with children with autism, and what a difference playing on a playground made in their ability to attend to a task and their academic success.”

Silverthorn said the idea of putting a barrier-free park in Fraser has been a goal on the mind of some Fraser community volunteers for at least eight years. That was even before the formation of the Fraser First Booster Club three years ago.

“For a city the size of Fraser, this is a really, really big deal,” Silverthorn said. “This is a premier destination park. People from all over Macomb County, and I believe even southeastern Michigan, will come to this park.”

In the future, Apps said, organizers will apply for other grants, as well.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Nico Rubello at nrubello@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1118.