Don’t blink when you look at parks and recreation in the city of Valparaiso, because you might miss all of the great things that are happening—and they’re happening fast! John Seibert, director of parks and recreation says that over the past few years they have seen a number of changes to their infrastructure. “On the facilities end we are continuing to grow our pathways system—we’re at 12 miles and going to 15. At Fairgrounds Park we have up to 500 walkers a day at our peak. That track was put in in 1988 and we repaved it and widened it and soon it will link to our entire pathway system. We also, through our Elder Style consortium, received a grant to build a Life Trail Advanced Wellness system, a cluster of exercise stations. It was a $73,000 grant and we opened that about a month ago. It is free of charge and it’s like having a fitness center outdoors for everyone to use. It creates community and connections for people and promotes healthy lifestyles. We finished up our trails at Campbell Street, Roosevelt into Kirkoff Park, and the Silhavy Pathway, so we are filling in the gaps in our grid system which will continue through 2015. We also did some infrastructure work within the parks. We have a drainage project at Bicentennial Park that was a $200,000 project and at our Butterfly Meadows Park our Park Foundation developed two shelters so there is shade there,” he says.
“One of the biggest impacts we’ve seen in parks and recreation has been at Central Park Plaza with our programming. We offered 176 events there last year. We are the landlords of that park and we work with Valpo Events and we estimate 130,000 visitors came there last year. It’s one of the places that draws people to the downtown and that’s the emphasis there,” says Seibert.
He continues, “We have had a continued increase in our youth sports and youth camps as well as our special events and we have some major things going on in 2014. The Central Park Plaza expansion is an $8.5 million expansion. Urschel Laboratories is contributing $3 million and the signature item on the expansion is the William E. Urschel Pavilion, a 12,000 square-foot outdoor pavilion with refrigerated ice skating in the winter and a covered pavilion in the summer months which will either be a complement or a standalone to Porter Health Pavilion. It will be able to seat 1,000 people. All of the market facilities will have more hookups there, our vendors can go in there, and now we can have activities going year round. We will also be able to expand the capacity of the facility from a maximum of 3,000 attendees to 5,000 or 6,000 for major events. We will have three additional plazas for community gathering. Lafayette Street will be a flex space with a plaza-look to it and when we close it, it will be a pedestrian space. Adjacent to that will be a community dining gathering space with water features and sculpture, and fire pit areas that can be used year-round. Our goal is to break ground on October 1st and have it operational summer of 2015.”
“ValPlayso the next generation will have the same spirit of bringing people together with private funds and we’re looking to raise about $1.2 million to have a playground that is fully inclusive, so we are working closely with the special needs community to make it one of the finest in the region. We have about 100 people engaged in leadership on that project and are working with kids who enjoyed the one that was built in 1984 and are the next generation of community leaders, so it’s not just about a project, it’s about a process. The build week is October 6th through the 12th. As part of the fundraising we will be selling tiles. One of the features of the old ValPlayso was the hand print tiles, and the old ones will remain. Instead of doing hand prints we are selling faces, so we will have a plaza of the faces of Valparaiso, submitted from iPhones of kids and family, and that picture will be etched in metal. We will do 1,600 faces in a mosaic and it will be an attraction in and of itself. We’re really excited about that and we will sell those through the build and we will dedicate that in spring of 2015. We have a lot of people working on it and we are looking for volunteers and donations,” Seibert says.