Big, leafy trees sway in the breeze on a sloped set of joined lots just east of Bolivar Middle School.
Next to them, a pair of homes occupy the southeast end of the block, which is bordered to the east and west by Clark and Lillian avenues and on the north and south by Madison and Maupin streets.
John Best, chairman of the Friends of Dunnegan Park, has his eye on both the homes and the trees.
Over the past few months, the group, along with Polk County KLIFE, has acquired several of the lots with the intent of razing the empty homes to eventually build a public park adjacent to the south of the existing Cribbs Family Youth Park at 410 West Madison St.
“These trees are fantastic,” the CMH cardiologist and former mayor said Thursday on a driving tour of the block. “We want to keep them.”
The homes, though, are a different story.
The two organizations have acquired and removed four homes on the block over recent months to make way for the planned park. Two remain, he said.
A set of residences on lots on the southwest end of the block, near the intersection of Lillian Avenue and Maupin Street, aren’t included, he said.
The remaining space is slated for a myriad of tentative plans, Best said — including a garden, an amphitheater, parking, space for sports and an expanded building for KLIFE. A bridge would connect to the Cribbs Youth Park, so visitors could use the restrooms.
The organization currently occupies a building on the block just off Lillian Avenue which was previously used by the Girl Scouts.
Room in the building is getting tight, KLIFE chapter director Ben Salmon said.
KLIFE has rented the space from the Kiwanis for more than five years, he said.
“We’ve just seen some pretty just tremendous growth,” he said. “Numbers-wise, and as an organization. We fill that place up pretty regularly, and we’d love to expand more and do more for kids and provide more for kids, but that house is limited in its capacity.”
KLIFE spent time surrounded by the homes, Salmon said. The potential of new space and fewer neighbors has the organization hopeful.
“Those were just rundown houses for a long time,” he said. “Most of the people I’ve talked with don’t remember a time when the houses were not empty.”
While they have ideas, specific plans for use of the space aren’t in place yet, Best said. The group plans to hash out the details and costs after securing the deed and demolishing the final home.
“And we’re looking for people to give suggestions on what things they would like to see done here, too,” he said.
The Friends of Dunnegan Park successfully built the mile-long walking path around Dunnegan Memorial Park, which was completed in 2018. A 2016 project at Cribbs Youth Park filled in an old swimming pool to create space for a splash pad and other new amenities, including basketball courts and playground equipment, Best said.
Independent of the new KLIFE building, Best said the project should cost between $300,000 and $400,000.
“And we’ve done this on no tax dollars,” he said. “It’s pure donations. We’re getting ready to start our financial campaign.”
Meaning, Salmon said, this is a chance for Bolivar to step up and help make the town nicer for everyone.
“It’s going to take a lot of community support, for sure,” he said.