NEWARK -- Jennifer Roberts said Newark is building more than just a skate park.
"We are creating a place for community," said the administrative director for the Thomas J. Evans Foundation and the Gilbert Reese Family Foundation.
Those two private foundations are providing $2 million in funding to improve the city's Everett Park -- including $770,000 for a new 16,000-square foot skate park that will open by the end of summer.
(Click here to learn more about the Newark skate park, including a 24-hour live construction webcam.)
Also part of the project is a new pavilion, dog park, playgrounds, public restroom, community gardens and two new baseball practice fields, according to Roberts.
Cooperation between the City of Newark and the private foundations is nothing new.
"Our trustees work with the city on lots of different projects," Roberts said. "We have extensive bike path networks. We own more than 200 parcels that we lease to non-profits (and the city). It's a natural partnership for us to work with the City of Newark."
The City of Mansfield Parks & Recreation department is working on a skate park project of its own, a $200,000 proposal City Council could act on Tuesday evening.
BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME: Roberts said the foundations were working with the city a couple of years ago to revitalize the downtown Canal Market District in the Licking County community of 50,000 residents.
The city has 20 community parks, including an outdoor fitness park and the North Point Dive Quarry. Newark is located 33 miles east of Columbus and is the biggest city in a rapidly growing county of 175,769 -- which has grown 5.6 percent since 2010.
"As part of that project, we realized we needed a safe place for kids to skate and bike," she said. "It's not safe for them to do that downtown."
Roberts said they looked at several locations, focusing on areas youngsters could reach on foot or by bike. They asked for proposals from skate park builders, settling on Spohn Ranch Skateparks, the California-based company with whom Mansfield is also working.
They selected Everett Park, a 20-acre city park, adjacent to the bike path, and just a half-mile northeast of the city's Courthouse Square.
Officials did design sessions with local skate and bike enthusiasts -- and quickly realized how popular the skate park would be with local residents.
"Throughout the process, we engaged neighborhoods and communities and found a great breadth of interest in both skating and biking. I think sometimes people don't realize how many young people in our communities are engaged in these sports."
WIDE APPEAL: Roberts said officials also quickly realized the idea appealed to more than just young people. For example, she said there is a group of women in their mid-60s in Newark who love to skate.
"It crosses all generations," she said. "It also crosses socioeconomic and neighborhood boundaries. It's a place for community."
Officials, who have worked on the project for about a year, started out with a smaller skate park in mind.
"As we started to assess the demand for the space, we did increase it," she said.
"We are nearing completion. We had a lot of delays due to rain this spring, but we nearing the finish line."