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A long, bumpy road for park

Current members of the Conestogo Recreation Association will see the fruit of many years’ labour when worn-out park is finally revamped

Lisa MacDonald and Sherri Cochrane of the Conestogo Recreation Association campaigned for a new tennis court and multi-use sports pad at the long-neglected park.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
Lisa MacDonald and Sherri Cochrane of the Conestogo Recreation Association campaigned for a new tennis court and multi-use sports pad at the long-neglected park. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
Improvements are coming to the Conestogo Community Park, including a new tennis court and multi-use sports pad, with a design to be completed by September 30. And it only took nine years to get there.

Woolwich council’s August 6 decision in favour of renovations is the climax of a campaign launched in 2004 by former Conestogo Recreation Association chair Adrian Conrad, and continued for the past two years by present chair Sherri Cochrane and vice-chair Lisa MacDonald.

“It brings youth together,” said Sherri Cochrane. “It gives them an opportunity to enjoy recreational facilities that they wouldn’t have access to unless they were driven.”

She continued, “It’s nice that every community has a park. We’ve always had a park – whether it’s been usable space is the debate.”

The sports pad, which will operate all year, will include hockey and basketball nets with rink boards, and the tennis court will have a new lighting system. For residents of Conestogo, these upgrades have been sorely needed.

“It was a park that was put in place 20 years ago, and not much was done since,” said MacDonald.

“The Optimists here in town, they were constantly giving to the park … But when you donate to a charity, it has to go to something. If nothing’s [being renovated], they can’t really attach a donation to it.”

Last week, township council allocated $336,000 for improvements and gave organizers permission to negotiate with Endure Sports Management Inc. Some $87,000 comes from the township’s budget, $206,000 from the infrastructure reserve fund, and $43,000 from the Conestogo Recreation Association. (The association already has $25,000, with an additional $18,000 pledged by the Conestogo-Winterbourne Optimist Club).

In recent years, the park’s few renovations were implemented by community volunteers. Last year, they repainted and upgraded the park’s two playgrounds, and have helped the park adapt to the changing seasons.

“We have volunteers right now in the village that put a lovely rink every winter for the kids here, and this surface will actually be better for that – it will have proper boards for safety,” said MacDonald.

“This truly is a community park, and we’re excited to make it even better,” added Cochrane.

The road to renovations has not been without bumps. Cochrane and MacDonald made the park a regular subject of discussion at Woolwich council meetings, where they reminded council that five per cent of revenue from building permits in the area was supposed to go to a local park. In October 2012, MacDonald joined representatives from Breslau and Bloomingdale to reprimand recreation and facilities director Karen Makela for poor communication, though MacDonald says relations have since improved.

“She was new to the job, and anybody new to the job has to get her feet wet, I can fully understand that,” said MacDonald. “Conestogo Rec. Association and all the other park associations always looked after themselves, so whatever moneys came into the park, that’s what ran the park. … That was being changed by the township.”

MacDonald and Cochrane see the park renovations as a multi-phase process (for the next round of changes, the recreation association hopes to build a splash pad where a volleyball court is currently, and possibly rubber mulch to replace the gravel on the playgrounds).

For now, MacDonald sees an investment in the park as an investment in a positive lifestyle for Conestogo’s youth.

“We don’t have transportation for our kids. That’s a lifestyle that we here in the village have chosen for our children – we wanted the country for our children to grow up. It’s a wonderful place to live.”

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