Tuesday, May 23, 2000

Lockland park gets new life

Boy to be honored

By Sara J. Bennett
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LOCKLAND — Nicholas Independence finally will have his park.

        The newborn has haunted area residents ever since he was discovered dead in a trash bin five years ago. His mother has not been found.

        Police Chief Ken Johnson dreamed of creating a park in the boy's memory — a place where kids could play, and a visible reminder to troubled expectant mothers that someone cares.

        The dream almost became reality three years ago, but it stalled when village officials decided to use the original property for new homes.

        Now, Nicholas Independence Park is back on track. Lockland's City Council has dedicated two vacant lots in the 200 block of Elm Street. More than $7,000 worth of playground equipment has been purchased. Construction could start by July 4, the day authorities believe Nicholas was born.

        “It really is going to be a big relief to finally have the park finished,” Chief Johnson said. “Even though the case is still open, it's like a sense of putting the case to rest and finally letting go of it. It's one of those things you just never forget.”

        Little Nicholas was discovered July 5, 1995, by a village worker shoveling trash at the Lockland Service Garage. The 7-pound infant still had his umbilical cord attached.

Project stalled in '97
        The child's case galvanized the community. Chief Johnson named him Nicholas Independence for Independence Day and got legal custody of the body so it could have a proper burial. Police searched doggedly for the baby's mother. Residents of Lockland and surrounding areas raised money for a funeral.

        The park seemed like a natural way to remember a child who never got the chance to play. In 1997, Lockland donated land at Locust and Walnut streets. Fund raising began. Businesses promised donations and services. Members of Wyoming Presbyterian Church created a sign.

        The project stalled when Lockland received a grant for home construction and bought all the surrounding lots. It was decided that the site designated for Nicholas' park would be better used for houses.

Persistence rewarded
        But Chief Johnson never gave up, though he feared at times the park would never be built.

        Finally last week, Lockland council members agreed to donate the two vacant lots on Elm. The village will pay for an engineer to study the site to make sure it's safe for a park, and Chief Johnson is getting back in contact with merchants who earlier had offered to donate concrete and fencing.

Park would send message
        Village officials will make sure the park is well-lighted, well-monitored and protected from nearby railroad tracks, Mayor Jim Brown said.

        If all goes according to plan, Nicholas Independence Park could be open by the end of summer.

        Chief Johnson hopes it will be more than just a gathering place for children.

        “I just thought, if nothing else, if some young girl who's pregnant walks past and thinks nobody cares about her and her baby, she'll remember people do care and there are so many other options.”


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