John Chavis Memorial Park near downtown Raleigh recently received a big infusion of funds that will help pay for major updates to the historic park that include a new community center, destination playground and water play area.
The city won a $747,000 grant from the National Park Services' Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program, which is made available through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
The legacy program supports the development of outdoor recreation centers in urban areas and neighborhoods that are underserved. The park was built in 1937 as a "separate but equal" space for African Americans and was one of the few segregated recreation facilities built in the state with federal funding, confirming the complicity of the federal government with southern Jim Crow policies, according to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Raleigh was one of 22 cities across the country, and the only community in North Carolina, to receive the funding.
"The grant shows the importance of Chavis to not only Raleigh, but to North Carolina," said Stephen Bentley, Raleigh parks' assistant director.
The grant money will be added to $12.5 million that's already coming from a Raleigh parks bond. The total cost of the project, including design, planning and construction, will total about $14 million, Bentley said.
Plans call for a major playground, a central plaza for gatherings, a new community center and a water feature, which kids can play in. The park's historic carousel will remain - and city officials hope - get a lot more use. Chavis also has a seasonal pool with a small sprayground and water slide.
Work could begin in early 2018. It could open by spring 2019.
"It will be a playground that we consider a destination," Bentley said. "Right now, it serves the neighborhood needs, but between the playground improvements and the plaza and now the water feature and the community center, we really want to make Chavis like another downtown destination."
The park is at 505 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. and offers a view of the downtown skyline. It's just down the road from Pullen Park and Dix Park.
Here are some details about the plans:
A main gathering space for food truck rodeos, concerts and other events, will include a water feature, which kids can play in. This won't be a colorful sprayground with lots of things that dump water on kids. Think of jets of water, coming up from the ground, which kids can run between.
There's a possibility that this plaza area could, at points during the year, host a temporary ice rink, Bentley said.
The space will include a variety of unique play structures. A rendering features a long rope climbing structure with a tall spiral tube slide. Design is not complete on the playground, but Bentley said it will be well worth the drive for families coming from other parts of the Triangle. Bentley compared it to the massive Sassafras All Children's Playground, which opened last year in north Raleigh.
"Not as big," he said, "but it will be larger than the existing playground with accessible surfacing and multiple unique playground" pieces.
The existing community center will remain until the new one, which will include a gym, lots of classrooms and meeting spaces and windows that will look out on the central plaza area, is completed.
Former Carousel House
In 2013, the park's carousel moved out of its former home and into a new climate-controlled building at the park entrance on Martin Luther King Boulevard. The former - and beloved - home remained. Bentley says that, as part of the upgrades, that building will get some attention and become a flexible public space with bathrooms.
"We are going to reuse it and give it a pride and dignity it needs," he said. "It will be a cool space."
There is still plenty of work ahead on the project, Bentley said. City officials also continue to work with the neighborhood on the final plans and design. But it's exciting news for a park that deserves attention.
Said Bentley: "We are investing in the heart of the park."