Any recovered money can be put into more Ipe Field improvements.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- With city support, a youth-designed playground will open this spring despite a South Side community group's money troubles.
City park board members voted Thursday to spend $110,000 on the project, money the department previously had set aside to improve Ipe Field.
The new playground will be similar to what the 7th Ward Citizens' Coalition originally proposed, said Joseph McRae, city parks director.
"That's fantastic. That's great," said Marty Novotny, who heads the playground project for the coalition. "The community really came together on this."
Novotny feared the project would have to start from scratch or be dropped entirely.
Investigation: The coalition had raised about $20,000 to fund a project designed with the help of neighborhood children. The city was to add some financial help.
In October, however, coalition members asked the Mahoning County Sheriff's department to investigate whether playground donations had been misused.
The probe, which was focused on how the $20,000 was appropriated, is done and evidence has been turned over to the county prosecutor's office, said Sheriff Randall Wellington.
There is evidence to file a felony theft charge, he said. The case may go to a grand jury, he said. The target, who Wellington declined to name, also could plead to an information. That means waiving the right to indictment by a grand jury. The defendant, in most cases, then agrees to a plea deal. Any deal would involve restitution, Wellington said.
City's role: The city had set aside $110,000 for Ipe Field, one of many playground rehabilitations planned or done the past couple years, McRae said.
The coalition wanted to design and build its own project. So, the city offered to use some of its money to pay for other Ipe-related items.
Since coalition funding is uncertain, the city will put all its money into the playground.
The city will keep the kids' design and buy as much of the equipment as possible, McRae said.
The cost is about $122,000. The park department either will find an additional $12,000 in its budget or scale back the project to meet the budget, he said.
"They wanted a Cadillac, we may be giving them a Chevy," he said.
If the coalition recovers any money, that cash can be put into more Ipe improvements later, McRae said.
No matter what, kids won't have to be without a new playground in the spring, McRae said.
Denise Skowron, the park board chairwoman, explained why members voted to fund the project. "It's sad what happened, but the children were involved."