Cavanaugh Elementary School Principal Hank Needham celebrated the realization of a dream when the school hosted its dedication ceremony for Cavanaugh Park Tuesday (Nov. 20) afternoon.
The park, located across School Street from Cavanaugh Elementary School, 1025 School St., was built on land formerly known as Cavanaugh Trailer Park. The land, which used to hold 30 mobile homes, was purchased by Fort Smith Public Schools for $250,000 in February 2009, according to Charles Warren, FSPS chief financial officer.
When Cavanaugh Elementary was remodeled in 2009, the lot was used to store building materials, Needham said. But he had bigger ideas for the property.
“I used to say if I ever won the lottery, I would buy that trailer park. Well in 2009, the school board bought it. Dr. Gooden told me to do with this as I saw fit,” Needham said.
“When plans to develop Cavanaugh Park were created, the school playground was the only source of recreation in the community. When Cavanaugh School was expanded in 2009, the school’s softball field, soccer field, and several pieces of playground equipment were eliminated. As the Cavanaugh residential area grew due to the development of Southfield Heights, Southbrook Meadows, and the Texas Pines residential communities, the need for recreational opportunities for families in the community increased. Youth softball and baseball teams had limited practice fields in our area, and the rocky terrain on the school playground restricted students from participating in running-related fitness activities without fear of tripping and falling down on loose rock,” Needham wrote in a park project update provided by FSPS.
Today the park features a softball field, soccer pitch, outdoor classroom/pavilion and a one-fourth mile walking trail.
“I have gone to Cavanaugh since kindergarten. I used to look out here and there was just nothing. People came out here and helped, and I watched this grow into what it is now, Cavanaugh Park,” said Kaydence Flemming, a sixth-grader at Cavanaugh Elementary.
The school’s Partners in Education, PTA members, students and many volunteers spent countless hours clearing the lot land and building the park from nothing. Needham estimates the total cost of constructing the park at approximately $250,000, all of which was raised through fundraisers or donated either through in-kind contributions, volunteer manpower and financial gifts.
Fort Smith attorney and school Partner in Education Joey McCutchen donated $25,000 to school, a donation Needham said propelled the project forward by years. The school received a $10,000 grant from the Fort Smith Community Development Block Grant in 2013 for the construction of an outdoor classroom and covered community pavilion, which was primarily constructed by the Commissary Kiwanis Club of Fort Smith.
“The use of outdoor classrooms has been linked to academic success, increased environmental stewardship, and pride in the community. The pavilion was also constructed to provide families and community organizations a facility for picnics, meetings, and other social gatherings,” Needham said.
In 2015, the school received a second $10,000 CDBG grant the city of Fort Smith applied for to install eight fitness stations on concrete foundations around the walking trail, Needham said. Remaining funds for the equipment were donated by the Cavanaugh Elementary PTA, which also donated picnic tables and trash cans and purchased fencing so the park would be mostly enclosed for the safety of students.
“This is a significant event,” said Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders at the dedication ceremony. “When you think back to what it looked like before, this is truly a transformation. It can be used for the students and the entire Cavanaugh community for years to come.”
The softball backstop and walking trails were built by OG&E thanks to the dedication of Dana Craig, who was honored with a retirement party for the project on Nov. 15 after 37 years with the company. The softball field was named the Dana Craig “Ms. OG&E” Field.
Walmart Store No. 125 donated $2,500 for the purchase of the soccer goals. Countless other volunteers and partners in education donated time and funds to the completion of the park, which is already seeing a lot of activity from members of the neighborhood, Needham said.
“I bought these park benches as a way to thank some of those involved,” he added.
“Cavanaugh School has been here in this location since 1895,” said Needham, who has been the principal of the school for 18 years. “Very few schools have the community spirit of Cavanaugh.
“When schools and the community come together like this, you create magic,” he added.