Skinner Park is latest Life Remodeled project

Evan Carter
The Detroit News

Detroit — After projects at Cody and Osborn High Schools the previous two summers, a Detroit nonprofit introduced plans to build a community park on the Skinner Playfield next to Denby High School on the city's east side.

Denby Principal Tanisha Manningham, center, is mobbed by students and well-wishers as Life Remodeled CEO Chris Lambert calls out for them to show some love to those involved in making the project happen.

The site, to be renamed Skinner Park when the project is completed later this summer, will have basketball and volleyball courts, a performance pavilion and high definition cameras that broadcast live video to the Detroit Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center. The park will be the first in the city to have the Green Light cameras.

The idea to renovate the Skinner Playfield began as a thesis-style project for Denby seniors in 2013. Community members kept the vision alive and in 2014, Chris Lambert, CEO and president of Life Remodeled, heard about the project while researching a possible project in the Denby community.

Hakeem Weatherspoon, 19, of Detroit was a part of Denby’s 2014 graduating class and is interning with Life Remodeled and the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC) this summer. He said the work being done to make his class's dream a reality makes him want to cry.

"It's so heartwarming to see so many people care about the city," he said.

Weatherspoon said working on the project makes him “feel alive,” and that he believes it’s important for young African-Americans to come back to the city and give back.

“If you see problems, bring solutions,” he said.

Denby High School alumnus Hakeem Weatherspoon, 19, left, gets a pat on the shoulder Monday from Life Remodeled CEO Chris Lambert, whose company is renovating Skinner Playfield.

Sandra Turner- Handy, Denby Neighborhood Alliance leader and community engagement director for MEC, believes the project’s student-driven aspect is important.

"The thing is, young people — better than all of us — have a vision of where they want this city to go," she said.

Denby Principal Tanisha Manningham and about two dozen students were also present at Monday’s event.

“The work that is starting here today represents all that is happening (in the Denby community) and happening at this school,” Manningham said.

The nearly $1.4 million project is the most ambitious project Life Remodeled has ever done, according to Lambert, and much of the funding and resources for the project were donated by local businesses, churches, and community groups.

In addition to its work at the Skinner Playfield, the nonprofit plans to bring volunteers to beautify blocks in the Denby neighborhood and remodel more than 50 homes on Aug. 1-6.

Jeff Krupcale, vice president of sales and marketing for Superior Materials, said the project was so big that contractors who normally compete against one another are coming together to help complete the project.

"This is the largest single project we've done as a donation," Krupcale said. "Which is the key to why we brought all of these contractors together."

While many of the project’s donations were either monetary or in kind, Bob Walrich, 73, of South Lyon donated a 1935 Chevy Convertible to be raffled off to raise money for the project. This is not the first time Walrich has partnered with Life Remodeled, and in 2014 he made the $300,000 donation to the nonprofit needed to build a new football field at Cody High School.

"The biggest factor of all is that the vision of transformation comes from the city and the high school," Lambert said. "Groups that come from the outside with their own vision — (their vision) rarely lasts."

Lambert said his Christian faith drives him, but noted that Life Remodeled projects are for everyone.

"We are here to partner with everyone on the planet," he said.

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