Muskegon Heights hopes to turn closed school into park

Mayor says city hopes to provide safe place for kids to play

Outside Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in Muskegon Heights. (March 16, 2016)

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — Plans are in the works to give a former elementary school in Muskegon Heights a new life as a park for neighborhood kids.

Muskegon Heights Public Schools accepted a $40,000 offer from the City of Muskegon Heights to buy the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School property off Dyson Street near Hackley Avenue.

Outside Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in Muskegon Heights. (March 16, 2016)
The basketball court outside King Elementary.

When King Elementary and several other schools were shuttered a few years ago, their play structures went with them. The basketball court is all that’s left of King’s playground. Some kids still shoot hoops there, but the net is mangled and the court is in need of maintenance.

“When the schools shut down and those buildings were sold off, the playground equipment was removed, and so our neighborhood kids don’t have that opportunity anymore,” Muskegon Heights Mayor Kimberly Sims said.

The city hopes to change that by giving the King Elementary property a facelift.

Joe’Mariaja, who lives on near King Elementary with her family, currently plays on the sidewalk with the other neighborhood kids.

“I would be happy,” she said of the idea of a nearby park. “We could just walk to the park without having a ride.”

“I think it would be great for kids in the community because they don’t have a lot of stuff to play in around here. I think it would be excellent,” added Frederick Williams, who also lives near the school.

Outside Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in Muskegon Heights. (March 16, 2016)
Outside King Elementary.

Sims admitted that buying the school is an unconventional move, but also said the city council realized it was the right decision given the lack of available land.

“Kids can have a place to go run, play, have fun like we used to. Swing sets — we don’t even have swing sets in our parks anymore,” she said.

Some parks, like Rowan Park, are even temporarily closed due to high crime.

The city hopes its purchase of King Elementary marks the beginning a new chapter.

“The city is working on several issues and one of our main ones is really connecting the city hall back to our people, back to the constituents, the people we serve. And so that means from the littlest ones to make sure that they have a park to the oldest ones to make sure that they have safe streets,” Sims said.

It’s unclear what the city will do with the building, but Sims says she would like to see it be some kind of economic driver.

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