Van Cleve

Nichol Nelson

University students who use Van Cleve Park to shoot hoops or bask in the sun will have to find a new place to play this summer. Major renovations will close the park for at least three months beginning June 11.
Van Cleve, located on the corner of 15th Street and Como Avenue in southeast Minneapolis, is popular with University students and neighborhood kids alike. The Minneapolis Park Board will spend more than $900,000 to replace rusty swings, peeling tennis courts and old gym floors in the park building during the summer months.
The money, which comes mainly from tax revenue, will be used to revamp the park based on suggestions from four neighborhood meetings held earlier in the year. Only the park’s baseball diamonds will remain open during the construction.
John Bell, recreation supervisor for Van Cleve, said the improvements will include the renovation of the park’s main building and three outdoor play areas aimed at different age groups.
Bell, an energetic man who listed improvement of the park’s recreation programs as his main professional goal, has only been at Van Cleve since January.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he said about the renovation process. “This is nuts, this is crazy, but I like it.”
Children who use the park like it, too. Gina Harsevoort, a fifth-grader enrolled in the park’s recreation program, said she thinks the rusty playground should be replaced soon.
She expects her time at the park to be more fun once the playground is renovated, noting that the existing playground equipment “just gets boring after awhile,” she said.
Christi Neaton, a University junior who has worked as a children’s counselor at Van Cleve for three years, agreed that renovations are needed. She said the existing playground is no longer stimulating for the kids in her program.
“They need a little bit more,” Neaton said, but added the run-down equipment does enable kids to use their imaginations.
“A lot of them play their own games, which I suppose makes them a little more creative,” she said.
Another change in the park’s structure will come as a direct result of University students. Bell said the basketball court will be moved further away from the kiddie pool because of abusive language used by players.
Bell said neighborhood residents who came to the park’s planning meeting were angry about the language used on the courts.
“Residents who come down here with their kids are fed up,” he said.
Another consideration for students is the lack of lighting that will accompany the construction work. Many students use the park as a short-cut to the University in the darkness, and Bell warned low lighting could be a potential danger.
“We’ve had problems in the past with the stalker or whatever,” he said, noting that students might be better off sticking to main streets during the summer.
Bell said that although plans have not been finalized, the park board is hoping the renovations will be finished by early fall.