by We’Ced Reporters
photo by Alyssa Castro
Ed Note: In late 2014, the City of Merced received an $828,775 grant from the State of California’s Housing and Community Development Department to improve and renovate Stephen Leonard Park. The park, which occupies a square block deep in South Merced, has seen better days. The basketball court is riddled with cracks and the pool has been empty for years. Renovation plans include installing a skate park and replacing the pool with a splash pad, as well as adding security cameras.
We’Ced reporters spent a chilly Saturday afternoon talking to visitors at Stephen Leonard Park about the new plans, and their memories of the place.
Dmitri W., 15
Dimitri lives just a few blocks away from Stephen Leonard Park and says it is an important part of his daily life. He spends just about every afternoon there, playing by him self or with other teens.
He describes the park as a family friendly place and is enthusiastic about the renovations. He was especially supportive of adding a new skate park and splash pad, things that would attract more young people. “There will be more people at the park because there will probably be more things to do out here instead of just swinging on the swings or playing basketball,” he said.
Luis Gonzalez, 32
Luis Gonzalez has fond memories of Stephen Leonard Park, where he says he practically grew up. “I learned how to breakdance at this park when the Boys and Girls Club was here.”
He hadn’t heard of the city’s plan to invest money to renovate the park but he thought reintroducing youth programming like the Boys and Girls Club would benefit the community and put the existing facilities, which sit empty, to good use. If he had a say in the renovations, Gonzalez said he would, “fix the pool and fix the community center here.”
Stephen Leonard Park holds a special place in Gonzalez’ heart and he said he’d like to see it flourish like it did in the 90’s when he was a teen. Gonzalez said if youth programs returned to the park, he might even consider sharing some of his breakdancing skills with the next generation of Merced youth.
Maria Elena Pimental
Maria Elena Pimental is a mother of five kids. She’s got a great sense of humor and like a lot of mothers puts her kids needs before her own. Asked what she’d like to see done with the money, she immediately turned to her kids and put the question to them in Spanish. They, of course, wanted to see volleyball courts and more games for kids. Pimental suggested more benches so parents can look after kids while they play or even have a snack while they rest.
Maribel Lopez, 24
Maribel Lopez recently moved to the neighborhood and spoke to me during her very first visit to the park with her two-year old son.
She sat next to her son’s stroller and watched as he played on the slides while we spoke. Lopez was hoping to find a nice place to hang out with her son but her first impression of the park was less than impressive. She felt the overall atmosphere of the park wasn’t safe and specifically pointed out the several homeless people gathered near the restrooms. “I was going to turn back when I first saw all the homeless people,” she shared.
Maribel had not heard about the city’s plans to renovate the park and said she hoped the plans would be include options for toddlers like her son. “The [games and equipment],” she said, pointing to a ladder her son was trying to climb, “they’re a little too big for my son.”