Rebuilding a park brick by brick

You can’t build bricks without money, and Forest Hill residents have learned the same applies when it comes to building a park.

That’s why residents have joined Ward 21 councillor Joe Mihevc to form Rebuild Our Park, an initiative to raise funds to revitalize Suydam Park. The plan is to sell engraved bricks and benches to raise money to repair and renew the park.

Mihevc explains that Suydam Park, located off Spadina Road near Strathearn Boulevard, is already scheduled to be revitalized. The city has pledged $125,000 for the project, but the community decided to take it one brick further.

“Basically, I called the meeting of residents and said this is what we can do for $125,000, you’ll like it, you won’t love it … With tight money, we can only do really a minimalist project,” Mihevc said.

The brick by brick campaign was modeled on a previous successful fundraising effort for Glen Cedar Park. Members of the community have set up a blog where people can place orders for engraved bricks and benches.

The fundraising campaign started in earnest in late October and so far they have raised $23,000.

“There is no goal, we’re trying to raise as much as we can,” said resident and project volunteer Shlomit Hirsch Feldman. “Unfortunately it’s very expensive to build a park, so we’re trying to do the best we can.”

Hirsch Feldman said the community has responded enthusiastically to the fundraising effort.

“People love it, we’ve been getting excellent reactions from people,” she said. “So far we’ve sold 33 bricks and a park bench.”

The initiative was originally faced with a December deadline, but they now have until March to raise as much money as they can, said Mihevc.

There is also a deadline for the design, tendering and construction process.

“We have to have this park built in 2012, otherwise we lose the (city) money,” Mihevc said.

The funds will go toward building new playground equipment. Hirsch Feldman, a mother of two who lives near Suydam Park by Heath Street, said the park’s state of disrepair has concerned her for years.

“There’s graffiti all over it, the equipment is broken, it’s in very bad shape,” she said. “All the benches are broken, and there’s not adequate lighting or garbage cans.”

Mihevc said that when he has worked on park revitalization projects in the past, they tend to add life and vibrancy to the neighbourhood because families are more likely to utilize the park.

“My experience is if you renovate play equipment, you find the kids and the community are just so happy,” he said. “And kids come out of the woodwork.”

There’s still a limited amount of benches available for engraving, for $5,000. They come with a plaque and lifetime maintenance by the city. The bricks, which will be installed in a decorative manner, can be purchased in small, medium, or large sizes for $200, $350 and $1,000, with 2, 4 or 6 lines of engraving, respectively.