City Hall and Fresno Unified officials gathered Saturday morning to officially unveil the city’s newest park.
Let’s call it the Vinland Twosome.
To be precise, it’s not a brand new park. But it’s definitely something innovative and overdue.
You see, there’s an elementary school on the northeast corner of Gettysburg and Maple avenues, not far from Fresno State. It’s called Vinland School.
And along the east border of Vinland School is a City of Fresno park. It’s called Vinland Park.
Both the school and the park have a lot of grass. Each has things to play on; for the most part these things are complementary rather than repetitive. Both the school and the park serve a neighborhood with lots of families with kids.
But a chain link fence and two powerful institutions with distinct agendas have long separated Vinland School from Vinland Park. This fence has a wide gate, but the gate was always locked. During daylight hours when school wasn’t in session, the school’s recreational opportunities were, as far as the neighborhood was concerned, a wasted asset.
And in a city with a dreadful national reputation for green space options, that’s not a good thing.
On Saturday, City Hall and Fresno Unified did the right thing.
“We’re unlocking the gate and making it available for you to come here and enjoy this park,” veteran parks department official Shaun Schaefer told several hundred people arranged along the park-school border.
Ten minutes later, District 4 Council Member Paul Caprioglio and Parks Director Parvin Neloms Jr. cut a ceremonial ribbon stretched across the open gate. At appropriate times from here on, the recreational opportunities of Vinland Park and Vinland School will be combined and available to the public.
The Vinland Twosome, nearly 13 acres in size, is here.
Caprioglio lives just a short jog to the west of the Vinland Twosome. He said he couldn’t believe his eyes when he first saw all the people who showed up on Saturday.
“It’s my honor and privilege to welcome all of you to today’s ribbon-cutting ceremony,” Caprioglio said. “This celebrates the visible beginning of a new milestone which shows the great partnership, the partnership between Fresno Unified School District – and specifically, Vinland Elementary School right behind me – and the great City of Fresno. What that partnership means is this: We have more green space in the city of Fresno.”
Caprioglio made sure to thank the administration of Mayor Lee Brand, the parks department and Fresno Unified. He gave a special shout-out to the Fresno Police Officers Association for cooking up the day’s hot dogs.
But Caprioglio’s focus was on green space consumers, especially those who come as families.
“Today is a really special day,” Caprioglio said. “Weekends for families will never be the same, and I mean that in a positive way. Recently we opened up the splash pad behind you. And now, we’re excited in District 4 to add the green space amenities that we need. Through this gate, you have access to basketball courts, swings, more green space, more fun activities. It’s great. I’m so excited. It’s a fantastic day.”
Neloms said his department’s mission is service.
“We want to encourage fitness and wellness in our community,” Neloms said. “It’s vital that we continue doing that. In addition to that, I’m all about mentorship. I love and believe in mentoring our youth and our teens. That is what the weekend fitness and recreation program is all about. Congratulations to this community.”
The backstory to the Vinland Twosome is long. The gist begins with the partnership brokered late in the Ashley Swearengin era between City Hall and Fresno Unified (and, to a lesser extent, Central Unified). The districts on weekends open certain schools to the public. The parks department keeps an eye on things and provides recreational-fitness services.
City officials led by Bruce Rudd saw that some schools with ample (but fenced) green space bordered some city parks. Why not cut a deal to, in Schaefer’s words, “unlock the gate”?
The Vinland Twosome is the first such deal. Everyone says it won’t be the last.
“This is awesome to see all the families,” Vinland School Vice Principal Lisa Jordan-Smith said on Saturday. “I’m very excited for this partnership. Have fun. Make it a great day.”