Fairy Castle: City still fixing 'world class' McGuffey Park

onarch-mcguffey-dig-webThe slide and sandbox structure has been removed to make way for a "Fairy Castle."

Less than three years after McGuffey Park received a controversial $700,000 make-over, work has commenced on a $75,000 repair job to correct several design flaws with what was promised to be a "world class" park.

For decades, sleepy little McGuffey Park sat at the top of Beck's Hill relatively undisturbed, its trees lush, its shade plentiful, its play equipment vintage but serviceable; but ever since the extensive 2007 renovation, the park, which gave up 13 mature trees in the process, appears to have rejected the change.

According to city parks and rec director Brian Daly, play equipment has deteriorated, a faulty drainage system has turned the entrance stairways into waterfalls during rain storms; and new trees, grass, and shrubs have simply refused to grow.

"We have had a very hard time keeping things alive without irrigation," says Daly.

Supporters of the park's renovation, namely a group called Friends of McGuffey Park, a trio of Downtown moms who sold the idea to city planners and raised over over $279,000 in private funds for the project, argued that the old park's play equipment and design had become dangerous and that it had become a place where "condoms and needles" were routinely found, and where hoodlums and drug dealers hung out.

Today, spending over $700,000 to renovate a 1.1-acre downtown park some considered unbroken might seem foolish. However, three years ago any suggestion that the project might be unnecessary use of city funds was met with fury from supporters of the renovation.

One supporter referred to the Hook's articles as a "vendetta" against the McGuffey Friends and suggested that a Hook reporter must have been "jilted" by one of the McGuffey moms. Seriously.

onarch-park-aWhat McGuffey Park looked like before the rehab.

However, as previously reported, while police routinely responded to a handful of incidents each year before the renovation, the number of calls for service–- which have included incidents of vandalism, larceny, assault, disorderly conduct, and drug distribution–- have skyrocketed since the renovation.

According to police reports, there were 14 calls-for-service to McGuffey Park in 2008. That number rose to 74 in 2009, and it has already topped 100 in 2010.

Renovation advocates, including former parks and rec director Mike Svetz and the Daily Progress editorial staff, argued that the new design would solve the park's so-called crime problem. However, as park goers have observed, while the park has become popular with toddlers and their parents, it has also become popular with teens and young adults, who have taken to hanging out by the dozens in the early evenings, especially during Fridays After Five, prompting police to adopted a zero-tolerance policy on after hours trespassing.

What's more, the new sandbox area and slide that replaced an allegedly "dangerous" steel merry-go-round itself became a safety hazard when the sod around the slide began deteriorating just three weeks after it was installed. Children had a tendency to pour sand into a "weeping water wall," thereby clogging the system. Eventually the slide and the sand box area were removed.

According to Daly, a new preschool aged play structure called a "Fairy Castle" from Kompan is being installed, and instead of sand, "wood fiber safety surfacing" will be installed throughout the play area.

Other than that, the work will consist of repairs to the drainage systems beneath the surface of the park, as well as the installation of a new irrigation system in the central lawn area, the planting bed along Second Street, and in the southwest corner of the park in an effort to get things to grow. New ADA-compliant curb ramps and detectable warning plates are getting installed on the southeast corner, and warning plates on the south and northeast entrances.

Daly says the work should be completed by early or mid-January, weather permitting, and that officials will try to keep the park open during construction.

Read more on: mcguffey park


I truly miss the old playground and trees.

700k for 1.1 acres? What did they spend the money on? for 700k they could have built an indoor year round park.

An acre is 43000 square feet.

For 200k they could have built a 2000 square foot pavillion and still had a half a million for play ground equipment.

A good story for the HooK would be to list what they bought and how much they paid for it.

This is only a test to see if David McNair banned me from commenting on his articles. Testing testing one two three.

Well then why can't I post comments about how awesome Michael Chang is at tennis playing?

Not Surprising! Maybe "mommies" can fork over the additional $75,000...

Took my kid there this past summer. not the least impressed. What a dump.

Perhaps the ringleader left town with this awesome community design collaboration safely tucked onto her C.V. Know them when they tear out fine old trees!

agreed, dustbag. I went there a couple of weeks ago. Playground fail.

The old playground was fun. It was a little gritty and old, but it was fun.

The new fancy-pants playground stuff is boring. Of course, now it's cordoned off and there is construction equipment strewn about.

Whoever is responsible for the changes to this park have an absolute failure on their hands. They should be ashamed of themselves for taking away a perfectly good playground and replacing it with this mess.

There is nothing this city can't fix by throwing exorbitant amounts of money at it! Maybe it needs a $25,000 ceramic Christmas tree in the middle, or a parkway to nowhere.

What's with the preschooler focus? The whole park used to be fun for all ages, now my older kids (8 & 10) think it's boring.

Anybody who takes down a healthy mature tree in this city should be required to . . . well I was going to suggest something unpleasant to do with the chainsaw but that would be deleted. Why are we unable to get a tree protection ordinance enacted? Thomas Jefferson (if I may drop a name, around here kinda like quoting the Bible) said: ""I wish I was a despot that I might save the noble, beautiful trees that are daily falling sacrifice to the cupidity of their owners, or the necessity of the poor. . . .The unnecessary felling of a tree, perhaps the growth of centuries, seems to me a crime little short of murder." Yet the city allows sawing down any and all shade trees at random, for no reason at all? Even in a playground? Absurd!

And how much went to the tree removal company. Let's assume none of the vendors were employers of the mothers in the group, etc.

One of the moms involved in pushing for that design won a fellowship for being one of "brightest stars in the constellation of American architects" several years ago. She and everyone else involved in the park's design will put it in theri portfolios and on their resumes and no one will ever check to see if the project turned out to be a disaster once built.

Likewise, all of the city employees involved in this failure will keep dong business as usual and they too will cash bonus checks again this year.

We who pay for it all will keep seeing it again and again. Best City, Vision Statement, blah, blah, blah... http://www.charlottesville.org/Index.aspx?page=1721

"...the City became a Tree City USA on Arbor Day 2007 (April 27)..."

Real reason for the desire to be a "Tree City?"

From the link above: "The Tree City USA may provide opportunities for outside funding opportunities in the future." It has little to do with actually saving trees.

-Yes, that is the actual wording from City's website, opportunities for opportunities! Geniuses all around.

This is the way I remember it (remember this park evolved over a period of several Councils):
Some parents told the city the park needed some work and more modern and safer equipment. The city said it didn't have any money. The parents asked if the city would do it if they raised the money. City said "Yes." Parents raised a sizeable amount of money and began making plans for the purchase of equipment. The city then jumped in and said the parents couldn't just design the park - the city would (and thus tell the parents how they could spend their money). Parents resisted. City offered to kick in some money it had said it didn't have. Parents agreed to a calloboration with a lot of cooks standing over the stove. So we got an expensive but obviously poorly designed playground. Do I have it right?

I haven't seen McGuffey, but I agree with Ron K. I played on playgrounds until I was 10 or 11. Now it seems like playground equipment is designed and sized for kids 5 and younger. Why not design community playgrounds for people of all heights, especially with such high obesity rates? A low-income mom might not have money or child care available to join a gym, but she could play with her child on a playground instead of sitting and watching.

I liked the renovations and I am sorry that the design didn't hold up. I don't see why people should be criticized for trying to improve their neighborhood park. My kid will miss the sand box.

Cville Eye, the previous stories are differ from your timeline. They say the city asked each neighborhood association how it wanted to spend its part of the annual community block grant. In North Downtown, three members suggested spending it all one one project: the park. Other members had various smaller projects in mind, such as fixing sidewalks, but the new group of three, who I believe were all design professionals and mothers of small children, won out. Then the high-design plan was so expensive, they had to agree to raise more $ privately, and then the city agreed. On one fateful day, they invited children to the park to help design it, but that may have been mainly for show. The member of the triumvirate who moved to Boston does *not* have this project on her resume, I checked!

In other words, the high design, expensive plan was the idea of the triumvirate, not the city. I think that is right. The city may have had something to with the high cost, though, as they things have to be engineered to public standards. Which apparently they were not.

And it is possible the tree removal had more to do with the city's engineering than with the high design plan, but I don't recall that part. Maintaining good old trees is a constant battle against people drafting tables, whether they are engineers or architects. And tree companies with political connections, sometimes.

Tree companies, whether politically connected or not, make more money keeping trees up and safe for people below than they do taking them down. The old Tarleton's Oak for example cost a fortune to keep alive in its later years.

@colfer, Dave McNair's coverage list begans in 2005. The neighborhood discussion of the park began several years earlier, around 2001, I believe. That was around the time Neighborhood Development Services came up with the idea of giving each neighborhood about $30,000 (I think) to do little projects in its area. For larger projects, the funds had to accrue and it was thought that the park could be improved through that program. It was called the Neighborhood Initiaves Program and was allocated over $1M in 2001. City staffers (Katie Swenson I believe in this case)met with residents of North Downtown to decide how to use the funds and a modest design by 2005 standards was proposed. My details begin from the beginning of this now-defunct program. I hope you are not confusing this fund with the Community Development Block Grant which is an annual HUD allocation to be spent in low-income neighborhoods, which excludes North Dowtown. Unless it is on the corner of 4th NW & Preston.

Welcome to the modern day suburbia. We'll cut down all the tress, then name the streets after them.