Chandler Park to rise again with $20M makeover

February 16, 2015

A group of longtime and former Detroit residents has formed the Chandler Park Conservancy to oversee a $20-million transformation of the nearly 100-year-old, 200-acre east-side park that will include new football and soccer fields, tennis courts and the state’s first urban conservation school for K-12 students.

“The entire park will be a living lab for ecology and conservation,” said Maggie DeSantis, president and CEO of the East Side Community Network, formerly the Warren-Conner Development Coalition, which is facilitating the project for the conservancy. Nearly half the money is in hand, including the funding for the school and fields. The conservancy continues to raise the rest.

“We want students at the school to be able to learn about the environment through the park, whether it’s wetlands, certain kinds of trees, flower gardens or food gardens,” she said. “The campus will deal with infrastructure installations that everybody understands since the flooding last August.”

That massive flooding, which caused an estimated $1.1 billion in cleanup and repair costs, left hundreds of Detroiters with flooded basements, sewers and yards. The disaster cast a light on the need for legions of conservation and environmental workers in our community and made clear that the antiquated Detroit water system that manages storm water could use some help from additional management systems.

The Chandler conservancy emerged last year from the Chandler Park Promise Coalition, which had worked nearly a decade to overcome a failed Salvation Army pledge. (Photo: Kimberly Mitchell/Detroit Free Press)
DeSantis said the school will be a regional campus, eventually accommodating 800 students who will run the park’s storm water management and irrigation system through tree canopies, rain gardens and other methods. Their work will save the city money and train future employees who can help do the same for other parks, she said.

Besides the school and athletic fields, which are slated to open in September 2016, the plans call for community gardens and updates to the historic comfort station.

All serve to complement the Wayne County Family Aquatic Center, the city’s only water park, which continues to operate on the grounds and is loved by local parents like Lisa Vosburg, a sign language interpreter and mother of four who goes to the park with a group of about 26 neighbors several times a month.

“It’s awesome. It’s an absolutely beautiful place,” she said, adding that the aquatic center “is just as nice as what we have in Grosse Pointe Park. It’s super clean, and the lifeguards were incredible.”

Vosburg, 36, said that she and her husband, Brian Vosburg, an urban planner, lived in Detroit for 10 years, but finally had to move to find good schools. She said that had the school planned on the Chandler Park grounds happened sooner, they might have stayed.

“My children are 11, 9 years old and one just turned 6,” she said. “That would have been an absolute game-changer for us four years ago because that was one of our biggest reasons to move.”

As the city’s landscape changes, dictated by various plans and community groups and city government, the conservancy made sure that its plans mesh with those of the Lower Eastside Action Plan (LEAP) and the Detroit Future City Strategic Framework.

Chandler Park to rise again with $20M makeover
Rochelle Riley, February 16, 2015, Detroit Free Press