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Kiwanis Club offers grant to stop land swap

DeKALB – The group that helped establish Kiwanis Park is offering up to $10,000 if residents come together to stop a potential land swap that could develop the park, including its youth soccer fields.

Jim Morel, vice president of the Kiwanis Club of DeKalb, said the organization would offer a $10,000 matching grant to make improvements to Kiwanis Park if the DeKalb Park District and DeKalb School District 428 can guarantee the land will be preserved as a public green space.

The two government bodies are in negotiations to transfer ownership of the 41-acre park at Fourth Street and Fairview Drive from the school district to the park district.

The talks came after public outcry over a proposed swap in which the school district would give ShoDeen Construction the park for potential development in exchange for 33 acres of land near DeKalb High School for future school expansion.

Morel said the matching grant offer is a statement to the government bodies that if they preserve the park, the residents of DeKalb will take care of the land and invest in it.

With more than 750 children using the park for organized soccer clubs, Morel said it is important residents show the same responsibility toward the land that they demand of their government officials.

“Our actions of putting our money where our mouth is says to the rest of the community and taxing bodies, this is important to DeKalb, this is important to our children,” he said. “But we’re not putting cash on the table until that park is saved.”

Should the park district  and school district find a way to preserve the park, the potential $20,000 donation – $10,000 from Kiwanis Club and $10,000 from the community – would put the group’s total investment in the land at almost $100,000.

The group invested $50,000 when the park was first developed in the 1970s and has continued to fund improvements such as installing water fountains and the Ruth Wright Kiwanis Shelter House.

Cindy Capek, executive director for the DeKalb Park District, called the club’s grant offer a “wonderful gesture” and reiterated the park board was working diligently to find a way to purchase the park and preserve it as green space.

The land was appraised at $625,000 earlier this year, although the school district purchased the property for more than $1.4 million in 2002, when it planned to build a new high school on it.

Capek said both government bodies are working together and hope to find a solution by the end of January.

“Our service clubs have been wonderful supporters of the park district,” she said of the Kiwanis Club. “Any financial support helps ... and I don’t think we’re far away from making some decisions.”

Potential improvements to the park through the grant include lighting, paved parking and restroom facilities, Morel said.

He emphasized that no donations will be collected until the club and community are assured the park will be preserved.    

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