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The ‘other’ city park: St. Elizabeth has quietly progressed on plans for Canby Park

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WILMINGTON — While most of the recent attention on local athletic facilities has been focused on Baynard Stadium, St. Elizabeth School has been quietly working toward its own goal of revitalizing Canby Park for the benefit of its athletic programs and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Some concrete actions have taken place, St. Elizabeth president Joseph Papili said earlier this month. The state, through its Bond Bill passed in June, created a task force to examine what could be done with Canby for both St. Elizabeth and Howard High School, and the state has allocated money to remove the pool, which has not been operable for several years.

The task force includes state representatives Robert Marshall and John L. Mitchell, along with Kevin Kelley, the director of parks and recreation for the city of Wilmington.

“The working group that the city formed … it’s like a community group that was put together. We’re going through the phases of what’s the next process. The pool demolition is the first phase. We all agreed that the pool is not going to be a pool. People will see we’re serious about this,” Papili said.

St. Elizabeth has a few designs of what a new Canby Park would look like. That includes input from neighbors and other affected parties. All that will wait, however, until the project is a definite.

Papili said that is when the “real work” starts from his perspective. The school will have to find donors and get into the details of what the final project will look like.

“In the analogy of baseball, we’re at first base with the pool, and we’re moving. We’re not hitting home runs. We’re hitting singles, step to step to step,” he said.

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John Rago, deputy chief of staff for policy and communications for Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki, said the city expects Neuber Environmental Services of Pennsylvania to begin demolition of the pool in early November. Everything after that, he added, is undetermined.

“We will reconvene the group once we get through the demolition project to discuss a path forward for Canby Park,” Rago said.

St. Elizabeth’s athletic teams would have a new home. The park would likely include a multi-use field for football, soccer and lacrosse; a baseball field; and a few softball fields; and perhaps a practice field, all turfed and fenced. They would be available for many community groups to use for athletics and possibly other events.

Aside from the fields, there would be a playground, basketball courts, and walking and running trails. It will be designed to serve all different age groups. Papili said the benefits would extend to parties beyond St. Elizabeth and could attract new families to the area.

“I grew up a block from here. We lived in that park in the summertime. We don’t see that now. I think it would be good for the community,” he said. “You have a school, you have a church, a nice park. People will want to live here, move into this portion of the city.”

One of the complications St. Elizabeth is dealing with that did not affect Baynard Stadium is the ownership of the park. The current pool, tennis courts, softball field and part of the football field are in the city. The part of the park closer to Union Street is part of New Castle County. Various codes will come into play.

“I don’t think it’s an insurmountable obstacle, but it’s one we’re going to have to address, obviously,” Papili said.

On the positive side, he continued, there are no buildings that need to be constructed. It’s more a matter of reconfiguring the available space and “moving dirt.” Papili could see a field or two being ready in two and a half to three years.

St. Elizabeth wants to make sure its neighbors are heard and part of the process. The plans will address parking, security and lights. A public hearing will be held once plans are ready.

“I think we’re in a good position where most people want this project, and you just have to be cognizant of everything that goes on,” Papili said.

There is an obvious benefit to St. Elizabeth in all of this. The school has no home fields for its outdoor sports. The Vikings played this season at Baynard Stadium for football; Hockessin Montessori School for field hockey; and Kirkwood Soccer Club for soccer. The baseball and softball teams use Canby. The school pays rent and transportation for each of those venues.

In addition to financial benefits, the school would benefit from having new home through increased interest from prospective students, but athletic facilities are just one factor in attracting students.

“Don’t get me wrong. Will it help attract kids to our program? You bet. Anytime you can upgrade your facilities, upgrade your sports and athletic fields, there’s no questions it will bring some looks,” he said.

As the spearhead of the effort, St. Elizabeth would want some control of when they would be able to use the fields. If the Vikings are off, however, Papili said they would hope people from the neighborhood would be there taking advantage of a community asset.

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