Councilman Slavin offers plan for new indoor facility at Dover Park

DOVER — Tim Slavin, a Dover city councilman, believes he might have found a possible way to bring back a long-sought after indoor recreation/meeting facility for Dover Park on the east side of the city.

Councilman Slavin revealed his idea during the Council Committee of the Whole’s Parks, Recreation and Community Enhancement Committee meeting inside Council Chambers at City Hall last Tuesday night.

In order to construct a new indoor facility for programs at Dover Park, Mr. Slavin said it was going to take a team effort between the city and the Social Action Committee of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA) of Dover and Vicinity, which made a presentation to the parks and recreation committee at the meeting regarding their findings of what the community wants to see at the park.

Tim Slavin

Councilman Slavin told Rev. Rita Mishoe Paige, the IMA Social Action chair, and Rev. Theodore Henderson, IMA president, of his plans that could help bring the indoor facility to life.

“I don’t know if you’re aware of what action was taken by legislature this year for the one million dollars that Dover had appropriated for a parking garage, but I’m going to read you Section 36, which is actually in the operating bill, Section 1, Addendum 81,” he said. “Appropriated one million dollars to the office management for the city of Dover parking garage. Said funding may be used by the city to implement initiatives associated with the Dover Park Master Plan and the Schutte Park Master Plan, providing the initiatives are minor and are major capital improvements for said parks.

“This gives us the flexibility and the authority to redirect money toward this kind of a project.”

Mr. Slavin made a motion regarding the Dover Park indoor facility at the end of the lengthy discussion.

“I would like to put a motion on the floor as a very high-level recommendation to the city and that is the city to explore a Challenge Grant to the newly formed (IMA Social Action) nonprofit partnership for Dover Park. That nonprofit must receive 501c3 designation from the IRS in order to receive any funding.

“The source of city funding is found in Section 36 of House Bill 260 of the 2019 Legislative session and the intent of the motion is simply to have the city begin that dialogue about funding.”

The motion passed unanimously, which set the wheels in motion for further discussion.

Grass roots campaign brings suggestions

Rev. Paige began last Tuesday night’s Dover Park presentation by saying the Social Action Committee of the IMA administered community surveys from Feb. 21 through May 22 regarding an indoor facility at the park and the programs and services that were desired. A total of 102 people completed surveys, including 40 from Dover east side addresses.

The top five programs wanted by those surveyed included alcohol and drug prevention, family counseling, open area for meetings/events, gang prevention and domestic violence.

The top seven activities that those surveyed indicated they’d like to see are summer camp, fitness/Zumba, learn to swim, day trips, teen night, dance classes and a gymnasium.

Rev. Paige followed with the IMA Social Action Committee’s plans for building an indoor facility that would serve Dover Park.

“We’re recommending that the IMA Social Action Committee organize a community partnership, and this would take a lot of the load off of the city in building a building by themselves,” she said. “If we had buy-in from the community, consisting of the city of Dover Police Department, other appropriate representation from the city, the appropriate State of Delaware representation, Maj. John Rundle from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware State University and other educational institutions, young people, community residents, sororities, fraternities, the Masons, Links, other civic and community organizations and others desiring to be a part.

“The purpose would be to collaboratively raise money to build a facility to house many of the programs and services desired by the community residents completing the survey. We are also proposing management to be the responsibility of the partnership.”

To the chagrin of Dover Park indoor facility supporters, 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.

That master plan for Dover Park, crafted by Wilmington-based Whitman, Requardt and Associates, has touted the possibility of a one- to two-classroom 1,400 square foot modular building with restroom facilities that would cost the city an estimated $165,000.
That is not good enough, according to most people who took part in the survey.

Blueprint for new building on table

Rev. Henderson unveiled initial plans for a 3,600-square-foot indoor facility that would sit just past the entrance to Dover Park near the playground. It would replace the one that was razed by the city in 2014 after falling into disrepair.

“The building is looking at four offices, an area that seats up to 300 people, three offices and a computer center, men’s and women’s bathrooms and a kitchen,” said Rev. Henderson.

He went on to say how important he thought it was to serve the community of the east side of Dover. The park’s wooded 28.2 acres include softball fields, a playground, pavilions, basketball courts, tennis courts, disc golf and more.

“Understand, we appreciate places like the John Pitts Center, we appreciate Schutte Park, we appreciate the (Kent County) Boys and Girls Club, but let’s face it — location, location, location,” Rev. Henderson said. “There’s nothing on the east side currently for those young people to go.

“I’m interested in the city of Dover — every aspect. I’m interested in preventing crimes and preventing blight before it actually happens. I’m interested in reaching out to this community while we still can, because it’s still well within our reach. We can solve this problem. Let’s not go backwards.”

He added, “The community center was torn down and there was nothing to replace it. Simon Circle was closed and there was nothing to replace it. Why are we taking away from the communities that can best use these types of services? It’s absurd.”

Councilman Ralph Taylor, who said he used to work at the old Dover Park indoor facility during Youth Week with the Dover Police Department, said he supported building the new indoor facility at Dover Park.

“You had me at hello,” the councilman said to Rev. Henderson and Rev. Paige. “I knew exactly what we were talking about and with that end in mind I will contribute as much as I possibly can in recruiting a lot of the local contractors who also understand the need and are willing to give above and beyond. This is a doable project. If we collaborate and we do it in excellence, it will get done.

“It’s been gone for a very long time and we’re seeing the pains and the hurts that are a direct result of that building not being there.”

Councilman Slavin said it’s high time something gets done to make up for what took place with the original Dover Park recreational building.

“I had the misfortune of being on council when the building at Dover Park was demolished,” he said. “More to the point, before it was demolished, the city was guilty of demolition by neglect. We just closed that building, locked it up, and let mold grow in it and it just deteriorated to the point where the only choice we had was to knock it down.

“I remember fighting the fight on the floor with then-councilman Sean Lynn that if we demolished it without a plan to replace it immediately, we’ll be here for years having to replace it — and that’s where we are.”

Open dialogue key to next steps

City Council President Bill Hare said keeping an open dialogue between the IMA’s Social Action Committee’s nonprofit partnership and the city is going to be vital to keeping the Dover Park discussions moving forward.

Councilman Slavin’s motion last Tuesday ensured that would be the case.

“I think everything that has been said (Tuesday) has been very good,” President Hare said. “I think there’s a lot of good ideas but a lot of details that we have not addressed. I really think this probably needs to be brought back in a separate meeting to where we can actually delve into it a little bit more and get more than we can cover (in one meeting).”

Col. Thomas Dix, a parks and recreation committee member, had suggested possibly making the proposed indoor facility a social center and potentially take over one of the Capital School District’s elementary schools on the city’s east side that he said he had heard were going to be torn down.

City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr., who has spearheaded the effort to bring back an indoor facility to Dover Park the past several years, said he didn’t agree with that suggestion.

“I think we have to get back to we serve at the people and the people don’t serve us,” Councilman Sudler said. “We don’t tell them where they need to be, they tell us where they need us to be for them. They have already told us throughout the years that they want the same location and another building.”

Rev. Paige agreed, adding that she would also like to have a satellite police office in the proposed new building to address crime issues in the area.

“The current location is perfect because it’s right next door to the public housing development and some tax-credit develop-ment — the Delaware State Housing Authority — low- to moderate income developments as well,” she said. “If it’s right there at the park they will have easy access to be able to walk right there without having to cross a highway or cross a street, they can walk directly to the center.”

Justina Brewington, who moved to Dover in 1988 from Milford, said the Dover Park issue goes far deeper than just brick and mortar.
“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.”

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