A playground and tennis court would complement the community garden just off Main Street, said Champlain Village Mayor Gregory Martin.
Though he was looking at a long-vacant lot that’s now simply a grassy lawn, Champlain Village Mayor Gregory Martin saw a family-friendly play spot that could add life to the downtown scene.
With the playground at the old Champlain village school long decayed, the only place for local kids to play is the St. Mary's Academy playground. The village board wants to give kids another option and take some of that burden off the Catholic school.
Just off Main Street, where an A&P grocery store once stood and close to the current community garden, Mayor Gregory Martin said they'd like to pave a spot for a combined tennis and basketball court. He's also working on getting grants or rebates on playground equipment there for village kids. The paved spot could be used for a skating rink, too. It would be about where the village skating rink was poured for its short season this year.
“It’s a shame to just let the land sit here and do nothing,” said Martin.
The community garden really took off last year, with all the plots filling up fast. This year, people around the village keep asking him if they’ll get a chance to dig in the dirt. Martin’s been surprised by residents’ enthusiasm.
“I don’t want to be a skeptic, but it was more successful than I thought it was going to be,” said Martin.
After seeing that response, building a recreational area for families there seemed like a natural development. Kids were already playing there while their parents tended to their crops. And the village hasn’t offered a play place in years, leaving the Catholic school as the only option.
St. Mary’s playground
St. Mary's has allowed the public to use their unfenced playground as long as Sister Marie Cordata, St. Mary's school principal, has been there.
“We just ask that they use it with care,” said Cordata.
Some kids, especially the younger ones, are often escorted by their parents, but local teens use it as a hang-out spot, too. Mostly, the community treats the playground well, though a notable case in the late '90s is still fresh in her mind.
The playground once featured a very old-style, heavy metal slide bolted to the ground at the school. Following a weekend break, Cordata returned to see the slide's spot sitting empty. The custodian had no idea what happened, and Cordata was amazed that someone even managed to get the heavy slide out of the playground.
Even with such an exceptional case of mistreatment and the litterbugs that leave McDonald's wrappers around, Cordata said they're aren't going to limit public access with a fence.
“We know they don't have places to go,” she said.
The last public playground was put together with fundraising and labor from the community, but was built at the old Champlain village school. There was a court there for tennis that was available to the village residents even after the school had closed. But as the property changed hands among a couple private buyers, it became much harder for residents to get access and the court and playground decayed.
“It became an area that people did not want to use because it was in such a state of disrepair,” said Martin.
For the playground, the board's planning on standard swings and slides playground equipment, but they want to be very careful about safety and liability following injuries at Lake Placid's Paw Print Park in November.
The spot should be a hub for village activity as it's next to the community garden, which is planned to get bigger this year. Martin hopes that activity helps breathe life back into the faded downtown.
The village acquired the land at the turn of this century during a Federal Emergency Management Agency buyout program that sought to take permanent buildings off flood-prone lots. Along with Paquette Park and the picnic area across the river, the village board is trying to offer residents plenty of reasons to spend time on Main Street.
Martin thinks they'll have the court paved this year, and he hopes that a playground can be installed by the end of summer, too. The village board won’t be able to afford the project on its own, so Martin hopes that the same community spirit and dedication that got the old playground built at the now-closed public school rekindles for another local improvement effort.