DanTellerColumbia Township and The Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori have offered a gift to township residents and school children. Sadly, Carl Jones (May 25, “Columbia Township park issues”) refuses to accept it.

GSCM sits on 13 peaceful acres of hills, fields and woods at the edge of densely populated Madison Place. Naturally, the neighbors are attracted to our campus. When school is not in session, residents walk their dogs on our hills, play hoops on our playground, swing on our playset and chat under our trees.

So when planning to develop an old patch of blacktop into a natural playscape, the school approached the township to explore extending this “de facto” shared use relationship with our neighbors. The result has been a delightful “Community Natural Playscape,” which township administrator Mike Lemon has called a “unique public-private collaboration.”

Funding for the playscape has come from a wide range of sources: private foundations and donors, the Cincinnati Rotary Club, the Mariemont Moms Group, Columbia Township, the state of Ohio, and of course the school’s own parents and PTO.

Labor for the playscape has been equally diverse: school parents laid the drain tile, installed the playset and planted trees. Students planted perennials and spread mulch. Five different Boy Scouts did their Eagle projects on features of the playscape. During one of our six volunteer work days, a neighborhood resident who had brought his children to play in the park stayed for two hours and joined us planting shrubs. What a wonderful expression of community this process has been!

Most significantly, the school has made its private property available for use as a private-public park, sparing the township the cost-prohibitive task of purchasing property, razing houses, and developing a park infrastructure: an exponentially more costly proposition than the $18,500 the township has provided. As a result, an inviting space is within walking distance of Madison Place residents, where previously the nearest township park was over two miles away.

Mr. Jones decries the limitations that school hours place on public access to the park. Actually, there are just 175 school days per year, leaving 190 days of total free access for township residents. In addition, the mellow weekday evenings of spring and fall are times when I have often enjoyed the sight of neighborhood families using our campus and playscape.

Perhaps the most telling symbol of the different lenses with which to view this project is the fence. Mr. Jones views the recent installation of a low split rail fence as a barrier. This is far from the truth. The fence is not to keep people out, but to keep children safe within. It is open at both ends. The gate has no lock. Instead, a sign will soon be installed that invites people to “Play! Enjoy! Explore!” Mr. Jones, I invite you to enter this gate and join me for a summer cup of coffee under our shady oak tree. I hope that you will leave our time together as a friend, not a critic.

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