Help rebuild Coventry playground

I first met Coventry playground on a fine July morning in 2000. 

Fate, in the form of a loan-repayment contract for my medical-school borrowings, had brought me to Cleveland from Seattle. My wife and I bought a home on Berkshire Road, not far from Coventry school. We flew to Cleveland with a few suitcases, our two young boys, and two cats. Mix-ups delayed the moving truck, which included the truly important stuff like tricycles, Legos and toys. What to do with these rambunctious boys stuck in an empty home?

We went for a walk the next morning and found, just down the street, the coolest park I had ever seen, Coventry Park, a marvelous tumble of wood beams and tractor tires, zip lines, bridges and bright roofs. The park became the highlight of our summer, with daily visits to tear around the park and zoom down the slide.

We settled into our lives in Cleveland Heights. Work went well. We added a daughter, lost a cat, and the kids got old enough to attend Coventry school. I got involved in the PTA and got to know some great families.

I learned that the park was an ambitious offshoot of the Coventry school PTA. A motivated group of parents, with input from the students, had designed the park, raised money, and then built the park in a massive, coordinated community effort in 1993. Anyone who was there, during the two weeks it took to build the park, recalls it as having had the energy of a community barn raising.

I was smitten with the whole vibe of the playground. I got involved with the Coventry PEACE group and became president when it was my time to assume the role. We raised money for park upkeep with T-shirt sales and frantic lemonade stands at Coventry street fairs.

What really stole my heart were the community workdays that we organized in spring and fall to keep the park in good order. They were an explosion of human spirit and energy. We usually had more than 100 volunteers to clean, fix, weed, plant, paint, or do whatever was needed to maintain the park. We had neighbors, families, Heights High athletes, middle-schoolers, college students, boy scouts and passersby—all working, even in the worst weather, to make it fresh and good again. 

The closing of Coventry school in 2006 put the fate of the park in jeopardy—while the years and vigorous play continued to wear on the park. We continued to clean and repair it, not knowing how long the structures could reasonably hold up, nor their ultimate fate.

In 2017, Heights Libraries assumed ownership of Coventry PEACE Campus—a move that took courage, and the vision to imagine an outdoor play space as an extension of the community-building that libraries perform. 

The playground’s fate was now more secure, but I decided my work would not be done until I saw a new and grand park rebuilt on the Coventry Campus. In my 22 years of growing older alongside Coventry PEACE Park, I [developed] a bucket list, and high up on that list is “redevelop Coventry Park.”

I joined the board of the Fund for the Future of Heights Libraries (FFHL), an advocacy nonprofit that is part of Heights Libraries, which is raising funds for a new park, [with a goal of] $1.2 million. (Yes, inflation has hit the playground world as well.)

We are going to do it! We are going to rebuild this marvelous space—a place for unstructured play, meeting neighbors, sitting around, drum circles, sledding, summer movies, Frisbee, rolling down a hill, or whatever.

I hope that you will be part of the effort, as a volunteer or as a donor—not so that I can check it off my bucket list, but because it is now on your bucket list as well!

Erick Kauffman

Erick Kauffman, a Cleveland Heights resident, is a former president of Coventry PEACE, an FFHL board member, a community-medicine physician, and an activist.

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Volume 16, Issue 2, Posted 10:48 AM, 01.31.2023