Less than two weeks after a town hall meeting, where residents passionately expressed their frustrations, the Sylvania Heights community has their park back — with improvements.
Residents were dismayed by the closing of the neighborhood’s only park after it was deemed unsafe. Okaloosa County Commissioner Trey Goodwin took questions and comments from dozens of community members at the June 13 town hall meeting and promised the park would be open within weeks.
Thursday morning, a handful of Sylvania Heights residents celebrated the re-opening of the park. When 9-year-old JC saw it open, he immediately ran home to grab his basketball. That’s the first thing he wanted to do, he said.
Ryshondra Foreman gasped as she walked up to the park with her nephew, Major.
“It’s way better,” she said. “There was a lot of trash, there wasn’t a proper gate.”
“Kids have a place to play instead of being in the road,” added her friend Shiranese Allen.
It cost just under $13,000 in repairs to clean the park up. Goodwin said commissioners worked together to reallocate resources and put other recreational projects on hold to expedite the park’s improvements.
“This was a product of a community stepping up,” he said. “This is a huge quality of life issue. It’s important for kids to be able to get outside, away from the TV and video games.”
The basketball court was repaved and restriped, the wooden plank used as a gate was replaced with a new metal gate. Goodwin also said new flooring for the playground equipment is coming as well as a water fountain.
While the nonprofit Opportunity Place owns the land where the park sits, both the county and nonprofit are working to negotiate a long-term lease on the property.
For Sylvaina Heights residents, the park is really more than a playground and some picnic tables. It’s an “outlet,” said Magic Hall.
Hall grew up in the neighborhood and practiced his basketball skills on that very court —“it’s always going to be home to me,” he said. Now, as the president of the amateur basketball league, Emerald Coast Elite, he gets to share that outlet with future ballplayers.
“I’m just happy to see the kids out here,” he said. “You know, kids have issues of their own and whether they just come out here to clear their head, sit up under the shade...maybe shoot a ball or two...it gives them something.”
Hall already has plans to use the court for a charity tournament in memory of his father, Mangano Dewitt "Tree" Hall on August 10. He’s also volunteered to help the county maintain the park to keep it clean so it doesn’t get closed again.
“(The county) came out here and took their time and made some good things happen,” he said. “So we want to put their work to good use.”