By EMMALEE C. TORISK
After winning a $25,000 donation for the village, all that Dom DeFrank wanted was for the cracked, aging basketball courts he’d loved as a kid to be renovated, with fresh pavement and new equipment, then dedicated to his late father.
DeFrank hadn’t even thought about another use for the money. He’d won it – the grand prize – this past fall in Powerade’s “Rise With Rose” nationwide contest. He’d submitted a photo of himself standing in his Lowellville backyard, a basketball in one hand and a bottle of Powerade in the other.
Work was supposed to begin this summer. The courts, at the 52 Rocket Place school complex, were supposed to be ready by fall.
But just a couple of weeks ago, DeFrank learned that the money he’d won wasn’t enough for the project he’d envisioned. It would cost at least $15,000 more.
Now, village officials are mulling an entirely different location for a new set of basketball courts.
“I’m bummed out about it,” said the 18-year-old DeFrank, who graduated from Lowellville High School in June. “I grew up down there, and I’m still going to go down there. It’s hard when you grow up somewhere and are used to the atmosphere.”
The courts now proposed by the village would be in a wide-open area on River Road, between the railroad tracks and the river, and the village would lease the property, 200 feet by 140 feet, from Sharon Slag, a stone-crushing business, said Mayor James Iudiciani Sr.
DeFrank, however, said the proposed area is more isolated, and he worries about the safety of children who might go there. If it’s the only way the money can be spent, though, he’d rather have the alternate plan go into motion than for the donation to go to waste.
“The grant was given to us in January,” DeFrank said. “I wish that somebody would’ve gotten on top of it then.”
Iudiciani noted that the property would be an ideal location for the basketball courts, as they could be the start of a future park on the village’s south side. A park, complete with a parking area and a pavilion, would tie in well with the ongoing $2.4 million river-restoration project – funded by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency – that village officials are hopeful will provide better opportunities for recreation, and in particular for water-sports enthusiasts such as kayakers and canoeists, he said.
Also suggested was adding lights to the area so residents could use the courts at night, and increasing the police presence there.
In addition, Iudiciani explained, putting courts in the alternate location would be far less time-consuming and expensive, with no ripping up and redoing necessary. Instead of months, the project would take mere days – an important detail, considering that the village already has been granted an extension for its use of the grant by ePrize, which is handling distribution of the donation.
Messages left on Tuesday with ePrize were not returned.
“To fix [the existing courts], it costs more than that,” Iudiciani said. “It’s very difficult and a lot more expensive job than a $25,000 grant can pay for.”
He noted that the village approached the Lowellville Board of Education about taking on the extra cost, but the school board wanted to split that amount with the village. Iudiciani said doing so isn’t feasible at this time, especially as the village already has spent about $1,000 on the project’s engineering costs.
A decision must be made by the end of July – or sooner.
“We still want to do the project, whether it’s on school [property] or village-leased property,” Iudiciani said. “We still want to honor Dom DeFrank and his father.”
Jim Alfano, president of the Lowellville Board of Education, indicated that the board doesn’t yet have a concrete idea of the project’s final cost, which makes it difficult to even think about allocating money for that purpose. Plus, repairs to the basketball courts weren’t necessarily on “our schedule of things to do,” he said, though he acknowledged that “anything could always use some work to it.”
“We can’t commit to anything until we know what we’re getting into,” Alfano said. “We need a hard number on the project. That’s the next step.”
Though DeFrank said he understands that his dream will still take shape, albeit in a different place, he’s not fond of the change.
He stressed that he’s still committed to his original goal, and has even started an online fundraiser – available at www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/lowellville-basketball-court-fundraiser/200286 – to help transform it into reality. So far, $130 has been raised.