To bring much-needed green space to a densely populated, economically-challenged area, Heal the Bay and Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists (WAYS) elementary school—with the support of funds from Proposition 84, are working to create a new multi benefit park in the South Los Angeles. Located on an empty lot on 87th Street & McKinley Avenue, the “WAYS Reading & Fitness Park” will serve as an outdoor classroom, community green space, fitness area, and a water quality improvement project for the watershed and for a community that is already lacking park space.
In 2008, Kendra Okonkwo, founder and executive director of WAYS elementary school, and Refugio “Reg” Mata, program/project organizer for Heal the Bay developed the idea of a park that would help treat polluted storm runoff and provide a natural space for students to play and parents to exercise.
Kendra and Reg collected ideas about what the park amenities should be, what it could look like, and what other needs could it be created to address in the community. They held meetings with parents, teachers, local officials and city agencies and in 2009, with the help of community landscape architect Steve Cancian, the ideas were brought together and became the WAYS Reading and Fitness Park design.
But any design or plan is just an idea unless it has funding to become a reality.
For a another year and a half, Kendra and Reg embarked on a fundraising campaign that was filled with extensive application forms, lots of meetings, and many long nights applying for funding from local, state, public and private grants. However, their efforts were hugely rewarded when in 2010 the WAYS park project won a total of $1.3 million from the voter-approved 2006 Parks and Water Bond Act (Prop. 84).
Where We Are Now
Heal the Bay staff and WAYS school administrators are in the outreach and pre-planning stages of the WAYS project. We are doing final outreach and engaging the broader community around the park in preparation for the final community design (charrette) stage. From those many design meetings, construction documents will be created and from there the park will move to the permitting and construction stages.
Wisdom Academy Elementary’s student population numbers more than 200 at their Manchester Avenue campus and minimal usable outdoor space for any physical activities. According to the “California State Parks Community Fact Finder” report, there is still less half an acre of useable park space per 1,000 residents in the community around the site.
WAYS Reading and Fitness park is Heal the Bay and WAYS school’s labor of love and will be just another example of how making our environment healthier can also lead to healthier communities.