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The Journal Gazette

  • A small open space next to Ward Corp. and the former Wayne Knitting Mills west of downtown has drawn the attention of Ball State students. (Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017 1:00 am

Small park yields big ideas from students

Ball State team eyes west-side space

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Other than trees and grass – or a blanket of snow this time of year – there's not much to see at Wayne Knitting Mills Park.

Changes, however, could be on the horizon for the triangular parcel along Watkins Street just north of Main Street in Fort Wayne's Nebraska neighborhood.

Three teams of Ball State University students spent the fall semester crafting recommendations for the land owned by the Nebraska Neighborhood Association.

Since buying the property several years ago, the organization has improved the site – which once contained piles of dirt and debris – with grass and about 25 trees, said Chris Shatto, association president.

“It was actually brownfield,” he said, using a term that describes areas where former factories have polluted the land.

The association, however, didn't have a clear direction on how to get people to use the neighborhood amenity, he said.

Ball State students – specifically natural resources and environmental management majors – took on that task as part of an immersive learning project.

“This project will give the neighborhood a sense of pride,” faculty mentor Amy Gregg said in a statement.

In a video about the project, students said they considered many aspects, including budgets, vandalism and the community impact. They also said the former knitting mill behind the park is of special importance to the neighborhood, and there's a desire to incorporate the area's history in their plans.

“The most enjoyable part has been learning more about the neighborhood because, honestly, it's a really beautiful neighborhood,” junior Macy Rohr said in the video. “The acre is really beautiful.”

Shatto is excited by the college students' ideas.

Their suggestions include a walking path, benches, lights, dog-friendly areas, a rain garden, a gazebo and, among other features, game tables with chessboards, according to a news release.

Stakeholders will have input about what ideas are implemented, Shatto said.

“If people use the park,” he said, “that will have accomplished every goal that I set forward with.”

University trustee Matt Momper is president of Momper Insulation, which is on Main Street within a mile of the park.

He views the park improvements as part of a broader vision for the Main Street corridor, which he said has benefited from reinvestment in recent years.

“I just want to help make it even nicer for people who live here,” Momper said.

“It just makes Fort Wayne a little bit better.”