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Top 10 stories: Airport plans, new VW park

Editor’s note: The Van Wert independentis doing a series of articles on what staff members have identified as the top 10 news stories of 2018. The series will run through New Year’s Day and include stories that have generated the most interest from the community and/or involved important local institutions or people. Today’s article features the No. 8 and No. 7 stories of 2018.

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

Van Wert County Foundation Executive Secretary Seth Baker (left) presents a drawing to officially dedicate Franklin Park to Van Wert City Council President Jon Tomlinson. VW independent file photo

Story No. 8 for 2018 is major funding provided for the Van Wert Regional Airport. The airport has a number of projects on tap over the next few years, including a new terminal building and a runway extension from 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet that would make it more usable for corporate jets.

The projects, when completed, will make the airport much more user-friendly for corporate jets and also provide more amenities to pilots who use the airport on a regular basis or who just stop for fuel while flying in to the area.

A number of private donations have been made to the $1.25-million terminal project, including a $250,000 gift from the Van Wert County Foundation, as well as a number of large donations from local businesses and financial institutions.

Story No. 7 is the opening of a major new park for the city parks system.

The idea  came from Van Wert native and philanthropist Scott Niswonger to create a new park on the site of the former Franklin Elementary School. Niswonger donated architectural and design services, as well as eventually gave $315,000 to the project from his foundation.

However, the project languished until The Van Wert County Foundation got involved, taking over the overall administration for the project and providing $1.3 million of the $1.7-million total cost of the project to help make it a reality.

The new park includes two age-appropriate playgrounds, a splash pad, two pickleball courts, basketball courts, a combination shelterhouse and bus shelter, and a skate park.

Niswonger attended with a delegation that included his wife, Nikki, also a Van Wert native; architect John Fisher, who provided design work on the park, and his wife, Mary Louise; and Dr. Nancy Dishner, who administers the Niswonger Foundation.

“What wonderful memories this place brings to me,” Niswonger said during the dedication on July 21, noting that he and other Franklin School students, including retired Van Wert County Common Pleas judge Chuck Steele, used to spend most of their summers as boys on the ball diamond that used to sit on a corner of the school lot in the 1950s and ‘60s. “Some of my fondest memories growing up were right here in the summer times.”

Foundation Board Chairman Thad Lichtensteiger and Executive Secretary Seth Baker talked about the decision by the foundation to move the project forward and provide the major portion of funding for the park.

Lichtensteiger noted that, while the foundation gifted more than $3.1 million this past year in scholarships and grants to non-profit and governmental organizations, it had never really taken on a project by itself.

“Now, as trustees, we find ourselves saying ‘can’t we do more, can’t we be more involved’,” he said during the dedication, noting that it was that mindset that pushed trustees to become involved in the Franklin Park project.

Baker, whose degree is in landscape design, said he enjoyed providing expertise on that portion of the project, while also overseeing the overall project as well.

In addition to the Franklin Park project, the foundation also provided assistance in 2018 to Wassenberg Art Center for its Art Park project.

In addition, while completed in the fall of 2017, the city’s dog park, located in Rotary Park adjacent to the northernmost city reservoir, was officially dedicated on March 31 of this year. The park provides a large fenced-in open area where dogs can run free without leashes.

POSTED: 12/27/18 at 8:46 am. FILED UNDER: News