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STOW -- What would residents want in a community gathering place? And how can the community move ahead with its creation?
These were questions that prompted the Stow-Munroe Falls Community Foundation to host a Stow Summit on March 14, inviting about 100 community members from 75 area organizations, including government entities, churches, schools and service groups.
Martin Tass, president of the Foundation's board, said it was formed in 1999 as a "collective effort of community leaders." According to information from the Foundation, it has been "working for 18 years to enhance the quality of life for residents in Stow and Munroe Falls by supporting community-driven initiatives that fulfill a driving need."
Board member Annie Hanson said that one of the needs that has consistently arisen has been a community gathering place "a place where individuals, families, and groups in our community can come together to relax, to have fun, to be with one another."
With safety concerns facing the future of the city's SKiP playground on Darrow Road, Hanson said the city has begun planning such a place. "We are here tonight because we have an opportunity that allows us to decide if and how we want to collaborate on creating a community gathering place that will benefit all members of our community."
Hanson told attendees there were three objectives for the evening's presentation:
Bringing together the Stow community to create an open dialog;
Creating a collective vision of what a community gathering place might include; and
Understand the willingness and ability of each organization to participate in the journey to create a community gathering place.
"The idea is only an idea at this point we need the community to come together to figure out the details of a community gathering place so that it meets the needs, the values, and the interests of our community," explained Hanson. "This will be a journey. A journey that will take a lot of time, resources, and talent to make happen."
Noting there is not a timeline at this time for this gathering place "because the timeline is determined by the available time, resources, and talent we can pull together," Hanson added, "Tonight is the beginning of the conversation, because creating a community gathering place is a large endeavor that will require a significant amount of energy and money."
Starting with a concept
A site plan of the concept for a community gathering place was presented by Joshua Helms, a senior designer with OHM. Helms has been involved in a number of concept plans for community parks, including the Miamisburg Riverfront Park in Miamisburg, Ohio, an ongoing project; the Christmas Run Kiwanis Playground Redesign in Wooster, which was also a wooden structure that was deteriorating like Stow's SKiP; and a Cypress Garden Senior Living Facility in Fuyang, China, the first of its kind for that country.
Foundation board member and At-Large Councilman John Pribonic said the proposed site is 8.5 acres of green space between the current Safety Building and the former SKiP playground. He noted the land is owned by the city and "has committed it . . . as a possible location for developing a diverse and attractive gathering place."
The six key features of the Stow concept plan are:
Flexible event lawn, for events such as a movie night, art shows, pickup sports games and an area for food trucks;
Splash pad runway, using the splash park equipment donated by the Baker family to the city upon Leisure Times' closing;
Expanded pavilion and event space, which would have seating;
Forested play trails, which would have playground equipment but not be "one huge playground;
Native pollinator gardens; and
Group fitness area, which could include fitness equipment, a pickleball court and an area for the kid-popular GaGa Ball game.
Pribonic stressed that the concept was not intended to take other current events, such as farmers markets or a church's annual pumpkin sale. "Picture Central Park, but secure -- we need a place we can come together."
Stow resident and former City Council member Janet D'Antonio said she would like to see it be multi-generational, with small spaces for such activities as checkers and chess games, "not making it like what we already have."
Rod Armstrong, also a resident and former member of the Board of Education, said parking would be an issue for larger events unless expanded parking areas were included.
Several attendees also wanted to see events with more inclusion opportunities and accessibility.
What would it cost?
And the price tag for a community gathering place with the proposed six features?
"The value of what we want to do is in the ballpark of $2.5 [million] to $3 million," Pribonic said.
He added that the city has $100,000 per year in its budget from cell tower revenue that it could potentially commit to this purpose.
One of the purposes of the summit was to reach out to the community groups for ideas for funding, which could also include grants from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for playground funding and landscape programs, as well as individual donors and dedicated park components.
"A community is what it's going to take to do this," Pribonic said.
In closing, Tass charged the attendees with taking the concept back to their respective organizations and sharing it, as well as with other community members, and to keep in touch with the Foundation with ideas and suggestions.
"The concept of the gathering place in Stow is different from anything we have done in the past and different from what exists in the surrounding communities," said Tass. "If we can maximize our time, treasure, and our talents, we can make this happen."