By Brandi Makuski
An effort to revamp the former site of Emerson School has renewed interest, thanks to one local neighborhood group.
The Friends of Emerson Park, a citizen-run group which bills itself as a “community revitalization project”, picked up the discussion on the vacant lot about a year ago, and now hopes to finally gain momentum on the years-long discussion over the lot’s future.
Emerson School, the city’s first junior high, is now remembered by many residents as both an elementary school and subsequent alternative high school before it was razed in 2002. The now-vacant lot between Clark and Ellis streets is still used as a playground and sports area by those who live nearby, and the Friends of Emerson Park say talks are in order to somehow return the Emerson lot back to its original owner- the City of Stevens Point.
Prior to 1981, the city owned the Emerson lot, as well as all local public school buildings and land, until schools were unified under the state-operated district, forfeiting city control.
Mike Bialas, a co-founder of Friends of Emerson Park, said he grew up playing “on a lot of the same playground equipment back in the ’70s that’s still there today”.
Bialas formed the group with a core unit of other neighborhood residents, to include Councilwoman Meleesa Johnson and Alderman Garrett Ryan, who are both participating as citizen-members.
“All we really hope for is that we can develop this as a neighborhood park,” Bialas said. “We want to rehab the baseball diamond into something usable, maybe put in a few trees, just getting the land itself level and safe. In my opinion I don’t think it’s completely safe because it’s just not level.”
The city has previously taken up the cause, studying how it could either purchase or trade services with the school district to reacquire the lot, most recently in 2009 and 2013 by former Mayor Andrew Halverson. Both times the issue was discussed in closed session separately by the Stevens Point School Board and City Council, but never moved past the discussion phase.
Mayor Mike Wiza said he’s already talking with representatives of the school district on a possible arrangement to take back the lot, but was mum on the details.
“One thing we’ll likely have to address is the potential need for bathrooms on that lot,” Wiza said. “If it’s going to be an official neighborhood park, that’s something that needs to be discussed, and that means money.”
Bialas said the group intents just that–creation of a formal neighborhood park on the lot, and recently discussed possibilities at a public meeting on Feb. 9. The group is meeting again in March and hopes to gain even more input from the public.
“This is just interested neighbors who want to see something done there,” he said. “It just been a vacant city block for awhile.”
The next meeting will be held at 7 PM on Thur., March 9 at Jefferson Elementary School, 1800 East Avenue.