With the dedication of six new plaques – one for each light pole in Broadway Park – the park’s renovation project has come full circle.
The Broadway Field renovation project earned Sunset Empire Park and Recreation Department attention and praise from other park districts across the state for its innovation and community spirit.
It wasn’t without its challenges, said former recreation district manager Mary Blake, but they were always met with enthusiasm.
“When we anticipated the total costs for the field, fencing and lights, what happened was unfortunately it came in higher than what we wanted so we had to cut back on the lights,” she said, adding that each poll cost roughly $30,000.
“It was one of those disappointments where opportunity was able to present itself at the same time.”
Blake recalled her childhood spent playing outdoors and how her mother would always leave a light on so she could find her way home.
“She allowed us to go outside to discover but always kept the light on so we could stay out a little longer to play,” Blake said. “She was very instrumental about allowing me to not have a time constraint but to be in the moment and go out and explore.”
Blake realized that other people in the community could probably relate to that familiar feeling of being able to stay outdoors longer with the lights on and decided to start a project. She took her idea, called circle of lights, to Public Works Director Neal Wallace and went so far as to buy the first light pole in dedication of her mother.
Thanks to an interest-free loan from TLC Credit Union, Blake went out and solicited for people to donate money and buy a light pole.
“We were able to find 17 people over time who said this was a great idea,” Blake said. “And because we were able to get the bulk of the money at no interest and spread it over a six-year period, it was just like that expression that the easiest way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time… And not a single public dollar was spent on it.”
Blake said everyone who purchased a pole approached it in a unique way, making each one significant and different.
“It was a real sense of caring, collaboration and innovation,” she said. “It wasn’t about the money… If you have a great project and have some time and can sit down one-on-one with folks and they start remembering someone in their life they want to recognize in a legacy, that’s when opportunities present themselves and you can do great things.”
Blake said the huge number of volunteers also helped keep the cost down.
“When you ask someone to get involved and everyone participates in it, there is this sharing that feels great,” she said. “When people want to know why one community is so helping and vibrant and successful, it’s because of those practices; our community understands it, and it’s much more meaningful. They are able to own it and can take pride.”
The lights were first turned on last Aug. 21.
“There was a big, full blue moon up in the sky and every single one of the lights went on at one of the football games, and the stands were packed, and all the people who made their contributions and gifts were brought out on the field,” Blake said. “It was a real proud moment because this field is the center of our community. It’s where the energy is and where people gather. On any given day you can see people in the park or walking their dogs where the plaques are now on display.”
The black granite plaques were designed and produced locally, and while the lights have been on for months now, Blake said the plaques are an important piece to the whole puzzle.
“I don’t believe any of the 17 folks who jumped in there to donate for this were actually holding their breath to see their names on a plaque,” she said. “But I think they will walk by and remember what a proud moment it was and remember they are alive and vibrant. They can come by any time of the day and see their contribution in a very real form and what that means to our community.”
She believes the new field provides not only for community involvement but economic opportunities as well.
“The benefits of park and rec are endless,” she said. “Anytime you can get people out for health and wellness and social encounters, it kicks into the economy as well, so this is an asset anyone can be proud of.”
This story originally appeared in Seaside Signal.