Mary M. Bethune Elementary tackles play space inequity, digital divide with new multi-sport court

Kids in the Glenville neighborhood—particularly older elementary school and junior high school students—just got a new place to play. And it’s not just your regular school playground. Crews at this week installed new multi-sport court on an old tennis court Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School.

The new multi-sport court, which is an effort by Famicos Foundation and a host of partners, will provide an opportunity for older kids and teens to be active with their peers, play a variety of sports and have a quality, safe place to play that is close to where they live and learn.

Rendering of what the sport court will look like with the colors the kids chose.“The multi-sport court, as opposed to a traditional playground, is aimed at older kids who may have outgrown the whole swing set and slide space,” says Tara Mowery, Famicos Foundation marketing director. “It’s for kids looking for more athletic-oriented space for playing sports.”

The court is configured to play four to five different sports, says Mowery, with markings for basketball, soccer, hockey, volleyball, and tennis. There are lines and a net on the lot.

“In urban areas, we don’t have a lot of space, so we have to be more inventive,” says Mowery. “The multi-sport Court is intended for older kids who want a more athletic, organized play." She points out that in 2019 Famicos created Newton Park for younger children, with swings and a slide, in the Hough neighborhood.

The Famicos Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, MyCom, the City of Cleveland, Bethune Elementary, and General Motors all got together an teamed up to work with KABOOM!—the nonprofit organization focused on ending play space inequity—to create a playground where kids can play and get exercise.

The new 3,500-square-foot court was created with an $80,000 investment from the partnering organizations. The court itself was built with leveled asphalt layered with concrete and tiles. The neighborhood kids got to choose the tile colors for the top layer—opting for blue, green, and burgundy.

The sport court sits next to a kids’ learning garden, where children can learn about gardening, food, and nutrition. Mowery says the entire park will attract the entire neighborhood when it is completed next week.

“Before, it was crumbly asphalt, overgrown trees, that sort of thing,” she says. “The transformation will be insanely obvious.”

Additionally, Mowery says the entire area will be a “smart park,” with free Wi-Fi. “Not only are we breaking inequities with sports, but we’re also overcoming the digital divide,” she says, noting that internet access is limited in the neighborhood. “Right now, many people here have to go to the library. Now there will be free Wi-Fi 24/7.”  

The multi-sport court project is part of a holistic community revitalization strategy led by the Famicos Foundation and focuses on the Glenville neighborhood.

Famicos formally launched this revitalization effort with the development of the MyGlenville Plan in 2015. The plan leverages the Purpose Built Communities’ model—which helps local leaders create greater racial equity, economic mobility, and improved health outcomes for families and children—by using intentional planning and investments around the strategic pillars of education, housing, and community wellness.

Location of the Sport Court relative to the Learning Garden at Mary Bethune.The long-term goal of the work is to create healthy, mixed-income and vibrant neighborhoods of choice with amenities that retain current residents while attracting new ones.

Mowery says Famicos Foundation has worked with KABOOM! previously on other park projects in city lots, but this is the first one connected to a school.

“KABOOM! overcomes play inequities and creates safe places for kids to play,” Mowery says. “Hopefully, this will pave the way to do more in other spaces.”

Pending weather and construction timelines, the new multi-sport court at Moulton Avenue and East 120th Street will be open for use beginning Monday, Aug. 2. The official opening will be Thursday, Aug. 19 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Additionally, the Glenville Heritage 5K Run on Saturday, Aug. 28 benefits Famicos’ youth programs. The run begins at Moulton/Scotway Park, 11815 Moulton Ave.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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