St. Elizabeth School president envisions new Canby Park as an upgrade for both school and community
WILMINGTON — The president of St. Elizabeth School has high hopes for plans to transform adjacent Canby Park, and he is confident any objections from neighbors can be overcome.
Joe Papili, a 1979 graduate of St. Elizabeth High School, is excited about preliminary plans shared with the community earlier this month. The school proposes revitalizing the park, adding several turf athletic fields, expanding and upgrading basketball and tennis courts; adding a walking trail; installing an upgraded playground; increasing parking; and perhaps even bringing a dog park to the property.
“What we’re trying to do is … redevelop the community,” Papili said. “A lot of people who go to St. E’s grew up in this community, and we remember what the park was like back in the day, when it was vibrant. It was always filled with kids, and it was energetic and a safe place and a good place to be.”
The project would benefit St. Elizabeth as well. Currently, the Vikings’ football team practices there, and it is the home venue for the baseball and softball teams. Other outdoor teams — field hockey, boys and girls soccer, and boys and girls lacrosse — play elsewhere, which means renting fields and paying for transportation.
“So what we said was, ‘Why can’t we develop something that’s good for us and good for the community?’ I know the community for years has been asking what can we do with the pool? What can we do with the school? What can we do with the grounds to make it better?” Papili said.
Currently, Canby Park is home to a closed city pool and two tennis courts in significant disrepair. Parking is at a premium for the events that do take place there.
Approximately 200 people attended an information meeting Oct. 10 at St. Elizabeth, and they brought many good questions and suggestions, he said. Some residents were concerned about lighting for night events. Papili said lights are proposed for the baseball and football fields, but the school would be willing to set reasonable limits, such as guaranteeing the lights would be out by a certain time and having mostly daytime events.
“We may have a weekend game a month, maybe a baseball game. We may have senior nights,” he said. “Right now, I rent Baynard Stadium for soccer so our seniors can have Senior Night. We’ll publicize it well ahead of time, and we’ll hire police officers.
“Some people said lights are good. The more activity you have, it keeps that other element away.”
Papili, who grew up in the neighborhood and is a former police officer, had this project in mind when he became St. Elizabeth’s athletic director in 2014. Details of any plan will have to be worked out among the parish, city and New Castle County officials. The park property sits both in Wilmington and New Castle County.
The structure of a deal would likely be a public-private partnership. Once that is worked out, St. Elizabeth will move on to funding. Papili said some folks have expressed interest in helping out. It will not be nearly as expensive as the renovation of Baynard Stadium, the future of which is being discussed between the city of Wilmington and Salesianum School.
“It’s a significant investment, and it will be a challenge for us, but … this is a dream,” Papili said. “We want to dream big. This will be good not just for the school, but for the community. We want this open to CYM, youth leagues. We want people to walk around the track. This is going to be a park. It’s not a stadium. It’s going to be available.”
Papili said the project is “in the first inning,” but six months ago, “the boulder wasn’t moving. I think we’ve nudged it a little.” He’s hopeful the current freshmen will be able to use a new field or two before they graduate.
Obviously, St. Elizabeth would benefit from the renovation, he continued. The Vikings would be able to hold multiple practices at once, and all of those teams would have a home. And a reinvigorated Canby Park would benefit the neighbors as well, he added.
“We want to be good neighbors here. And I think St. Elizabeth School and church have been good neighbors to this community for a long, long time. The last thing we want to do is destroy that reputation. This is an inclusive project, not exclusive.
“The school’s stable. We’re not going anywhere. We feel this will make it better.”