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Parks Foundation gets $7.3M Lilly Endowment grant

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Lilly Endowment Inc. has awarded the Indianapolis Parks Foundation a $7.3 million grant to fund improvements that include a new pool at Bethel Park on the near-southeast side.

The not-for-profit, which provides financial support to the city’s Indy Parks and Recreation department, announced the donation — its largest ever — Thursday morning at Windsor Village Park on East 25th Street.

“This is a huge opportunity to make some improvements, but it’s also a wonderful message to the community that we’re here,” the foundation’s executive director, Cindy Porteous, said.

Besides funding the Bethel pool, the grant will be used to upgrade the Riverside Park Aquatic Center, install restrooms at 12 parks lacking the facilities, and refurbish tennis courts at 11 parks used by the National Junior Tennis League for its summer programs.

Indy Parks this year closed the pool built in 1971 because it was leaking roughly 8 million gallons of water a season, it said. Design work on a replacement has started, with completion slated for August, Porteous said.

The 12 parks that will receive restroom facilities include Clayton and LaSalle Park on the city’s near-east side. The parks department added a water-spray area earlier this year to attract more children.

The 11 parks where tennis courts will be renovated include Broad Ripple, Brookside and Garfield parks.

Lilly Endowment has supported city parks through the endowment’s Summer Youth Program Fund, but it never has awarded funds directly to the foundation. In the past 30 years, endowment spokeswoman Gretchen Wolfram estimated it has contributed $28 million toward park improvements.

“We think parks are good places for people and for neighborhoods,” she said. “It’s important they be kept up as best they can.”

Since its inception in 1991, the parks foundation has provided more than $12 million to Indy Parks for capital improvement projects, land acquisition and program support.

Building more greenway trails and replacing outdated playground equipment are among the foundation’s priorities as well, Porteous said. 

Among those trails is the Pennsy Rail-Trail on the east side, which now extends 1.2 miles and could stretch up to six miles when finished. Federal funding is available for some improvements, but additional money is needed to buy more land to finish the trail.

Plans call for connecting it with the proposed Cumberland Pennsy Trail from German Church Road at the east border of Marion County, and with the Pleasant Run Trail linking eastside neighborhoods with Garfield Park and, ultimately, the White River downtown.

The Pennsylvania Railroad operated for several decades on the line, which has historical significance. The line was used by the train that carried the body of Abraham Lincoln to its resting place in Springfield, Ill. The tracks were pulled up in 1982.

The foundation also has identified 45 parks in need of new playgrounds. It hopes to raise “millions of dollars” during the next three years to replace the outdated equipment, Porteous said.
 
The foundation has assets of $1.2 million.
 

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