August 8th , 2014
BY SVEN BERG
On Aug. 12, 1999, the school building at 2995 N. Five Mile Road burned down.
The building belonged to Trudy Comba, who ran A Small World Center for Creativity, a Montessori-type school, on the property between 1979 and 1993, when she sold the business and rented the building to New Horizon Academy.
The fire was a blow to Comba, partly because she relied on income from the building to support herself. But she took the opportunity to fill a need she’d kept her eye on for years.
Comba donated the 3.2-acre property to the city of Boise so it could become a park.
Parks are scarce in the area, which is home to a predominantly low-income population and a lot of refugees.
“It’s a jewel where you wouldn’t expect to find one,” said Kathryn Metcalfe, Comba’s daughter.
“This is the very definition of a community park because the community made it happen.”
PATH TO THE PARK
Donating land for a park doesn’t mean it’s going to become a park overnight. Just look at Comba Park, which the city will dedicate Friday.
A decade after Comba donated the land, the city had yet to develop it. In 2011, Metcalfe submitted a winning application for a city grant to put a community garden in the park.
The next year, with the City Council’s blessing, Boise Parks and Recreation staff planted grass, installed an irrigation system and built a parking lot. Since then, the department has installed a playground and water feature.
In all, the city has spent about $930,000 on the park, Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said.
Comba, who lives in Hawaii, and Metcalfe, who lives in New York, are in Boise this week for Friday’s park dedication.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Comba said Wednesday. “A lot of times you dream and nothing happens.”
Here’s a closer look at what has happened.
WATER CONSERVATION AND MUSIC
A keyboard built into the splash pad will play tones and spray water when its keys are touched. Holloway said the combination of learning and fun is the kind of thing that Comba strived for at her schools.
A 20,000-gallon tank will capture runoff from the splash pad. The irrigation system will draw on that reservoir to water Comba Park’s grass and shrubs, Holloway said.
WHAT ABOUT THAT BARN?
Comba used a barn on the land as a venue for her students’ arts activities. Originally, the family wanted the barn preserved.
A few years ago, nonprofit organization Boise Urban Garden School expressed interest in retrofitting the barn to be used as the group’s headquarters. Comba and her family members said that was OK, but no one could come up with enough money for the project. Finally, Comba agreed to pay for basic renovations herself.
Ultimately, the barn had to be rebuilt because the original structure didn’t have a foundation, Holloway said. Boise architect Andy Erstad designed it for free. Boise builder Doug Ewing constructed a new barn with some of his own money and by calling in favors from his friends in the construction industry. Parks and Recreation contributed $20,000. Private donations covered the rest of the cost.
The 1,200-square-foot barn will have office and classroom space for the school, as well as a commercial kitchen to serve as a venue for cooking classes, Holloway said. Boise will own it and allow the garden school to use it for free, he said.
Two community gardens at Comba Park also reflect the values of Comba, who incorporated raising plants and animals in her students’ learning. One garden will be located on the west side of the park. The other is closer to the parking lot on the park’s east side.