Playground and splash park open at O’Bannon Soccer Park

The story behind the Old Northside’s new playground and splash park – a facility christened Friday, May 19 – began all the way back in 1989 when one if the neighborhood’s urban pioneers wanted a space for area children to play soccer.

Rick Patton went to Judy O’Bannon to solve the problem. Judy and her husband, Frank, called the Old Northside home when Frank was lieutenant governor, before he became governor. Rick and Judy turned their attention to a derelict field on the extreme east side of the neighborhood, land which had once been intended as the junction of Interstate 70 and a leg of Interstate 69 coming from the northeast, a leg which would never be constructed.

That’s how the Old Northside Soccer Fields came to be, managed until 2003 by the Old Northside Foundation before ceding the space to Indy Parks.

While children climb in the background, Tracy McLaughlin pushes Melody, her 22-month-old daughter, in a swing especially designed for the youngest children.

But as well-used as the soccer complex continued to be, neighborhood stakeholders saw the need for an upgrade. Why not use a corner of the space, later named the Frank and Judy O’Bannon Soccer Park, as a playground? The Old Northside Foundation has for many years operated a playground, Shawn Grove Park, on the western side of the historic neighborhood. But there was still a need, especially with the burgeoning housing situation east of College Avenue.

The Old Northside Foundation embarked on an effort to establish a playground on the soccer fields in 1995. In 2018 the stakeholders launched a crowd-funding campaign – and after five years of twists, turns, challenges, creative solutions and more than a few setbacks, the playground and splash park was opened at an event which drew Judy O’Bannon back to her former neighborhood.

Rick Patton, too. Rick and his wife, Cyndi, have since retired to Florida, but Rick wasn’t about to miss this day. Nor would Paul Smith and Dr. Tom Mote, two other long-time Old Northside Foundation stalwarts who have played key roles in the development of the soccer fields.

And, of course, the ribbon-cutting drew Mayor Joe Hogsett; Indy Parks Director Phyllis Boyd; Parks Alliance of Indianapolis Director Lori Hazlett; City-County Councilor William “Duke” Oliver, chair of the Council’s Parks Committee; and Kevin Osburn, a long-time Old Northside resident who helped champion the playground effort. His firm, Rundell Ernstberger Associates, designed the park.

“This park is a poster child of how a project can be completed in a community,” Judy O’Bannon said during the ceremony. Hogsett observed that the improvements to the soccer field, which include a new shelter and parking, “give residents even more reasons to stop by and have fun.”

The mayor pointed out the many partners required to bring the playground project to fruition – amid funding problems, supply- chain issues and complications from construction of the North Split. (In the background of the Friday morning ceremony, bulldozers pushed dirt and debris around on the interstate hill immediately south of the playground, while bicyclists rode on the temporary leg of the Monon Trail routed along the park due to the state’s construction project.)

Neighborhood youngsters take full advantage of the new playground equipment at the Frank & Judy O’Bannon Park.

The final cost of the playground/splash park project: $861,000, with the city putting up $410,000. The Parks Alliance provided $60,000 and stakeholders raised a significant amount of money to make the playground a reality. Osburn pointed out the facility won’t just serve Old Northside children, but those from nearby Martindale-Brightwood, Herron-Morton Place, Chatham Arch and Kennedy-King as well.

Osburn said he is grateful for the “persistence and steadfast leadership” which brought the project to completion. The result, he said: “A premiere playground and recreational experience for Downtown.”

PHOTO ABOVE: One youngster marveled at the splash park feature at the new playground at the Frank and Judy O’Bannon Park.