80K headache: Broken, dying, and disorderly days for McGuffey Park

onarch-mcguffeypark-sandbox0923McGuffey Park's slide and sandbox area has already deteriorated beyond repair. It will be removed as part of an $80,000 upgrade.

Back in 2007, sleepy little McGuffey Park near the Downtown Mall got a fancy $700,000 make-over, courtesy of the City, which pitched in $420,000, and a trio of North Downtown moms called the Friends of McGuffey Park, who raised over $279,000 for the 1.1-acre project and received an award from the City Planning Commission for their efforts. They promised that the new park, with modern play equipment and a unique design, would become a “world class” facility.

But less than two years later, structural problems, dying trees, and hoards of unruly youths have created a world class pain–- as City Parks staffers intend to spend another $80,000 on repairs.

The problem with the teens has become so intense that local police have vowed to step up patrols, changed the closing time from 11pm to 9pm, and intend to put up no-trespassing signs.

McGuffey Park before the renovation. (Click to enlarge.)

According to police reports, there were 14 calls-for-service to McGuffey Park in 2008, but that figure jumped to 74 in 2009. In 2010, police have already been called 96 times.

Since 2008, there have been 37 reported incidents of vandalism, larceny, assault, disorderly conduct, and drug distribution in McGuffey Park and along 2nd Street NW. In 2010, one of two kidnappings in the City occurred on 2nd Street NW, granted it was a domestic incident where the two parties knew each other.

McGuffey Hill condominium resident Kai Rady describes regularly seeing over a hundred teens and young adults in the park during the evenings. She says that obscenities have been shouted at her and her husband, plantings have been destroyed, and that neighbors in second floor units have seen young people having sex in the shielded grassy area above their parking structure, which has also been used as a restroom, she says.

"It's not so much the teenagers, as it is the element they tend to attract in such numbers," says Rady, who sympathizes with the teenagers needing a place to gather.

“Go there on a Friday night especially,” says North Downtown Neighborhood Association president Colette Hall. “It has become the new hangout as an overflow from the Mall. Parents are just dropping their kids off at the park.”

Indeed, Rady says the park was used mostly by North Downtown area kids in the past, but now they seem to be from all over, racially mixed, and range in age from 12 to 20 and even older.

Hall says that she, Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo, and the president of McGuffey Condos appeared on Rob Shilling’s radio show recently to discuss the growing problem.

“We’ve recently adopted a zero-tolerance policy on trespassing after hours to deal with the problem,” says Charlottesville Police Captain Bryant Bibb.

“We’re hardening our stance," says Bibb. "We’ll bring the kids in and call their parents.” For older troublemakers, there is a fine of up to $2,500 and a year in jail.

onarch-mcguffeypark-trees0923Saplings that replaced the felled trees in the park have either died or refused to grow.

Ironically, the McGuffey Friends, City officials, former Parks & Rec. director Mike Svetz, and even the Daily Progress editorial staff argued that the renovation would help solve the crime problem that they claimed plagued the old park, where "needles and condoms" were found in the morning. The landscaping firm, Siteworks, claimed that its design would address such problems by “creating better visibility from the street and by providing more potential for flow-through circulation.”

However, several teens a reporter spoke to said that the many benches, long picnic tables, rock walls, and dimly lit areas make it an ideal place for many different groups of kids to sit and hang out. They also said it's common knowledge that drugs are available in the park. Plus, it's conveniently located near the Mall.

“I think it would probably have been better to spend $400,000 on finding something for these kids to do,” says Rady. “It wasn’t like this before the park was renovated.”

“I was shocked and awed that the city was giving $400,000 for a facelift of one city park,” wrote another nearby resident, Sarah Peaslee, in a letter to the Hook. “Most of us said, If it's not broke, why fix it?"

Peaslee wondered what would keep out "vagrants and druggies" and predicted that the “lovely, long, fine wood benches” would actually attract more of them. "Help me understand," she concluded, "why the city spent so much to fix one unbroken park."

According to current City Parks & Rec director Brian Daly, several of the new park’s components are already broken, which could cost the City another $80,000 over the coming months.

news-raininmcguffeyparkThe stairs to McGuffey Park become a river during a May 28 rain storm.

Most notably, a former slide and sandbox zone has become a mud pit. Daly says the sod around the slide began deteriorating just three weeks after installation. Eventually, the ground began to erode, making the slide such a safety hazard that it was removed.

As for the sand, Daly says that kids got into the habit of dumping it into a nearby “weeping water wall,” which clogged the fountain (currently not functioning) and depleted the sand. In addition, the sand area filled with rainwater and didn't drain properly. As a result, the whole thing will be removed and replaced with more traditional play structures.

More drainage issues were highlighted during a late-May storm when stormwater overwhelmed the built-in drains, which Daly says are not functioning properly, and caused a cascade down the entrance stairway. Daly also says that new plants and trees in the park have not fared well, so a sprinkler system will need to be installed under the main lawn.

“It’s been a struggle keeping anything alive,” says Daly.

During the renovation, workers felled over 13 mature trees, including a veritable wall of greenery along High Street. Now, the mulch installed on that steep slope routinely pours onto the sidewalk.

Indeed, on a recent visit, a reporter counted at least five dead young trees and several others struggling. The once-shady park now offers limited shelter from the sun. During a recent noon-time visit, the park was filled with children from a nearby pre-school, but most were gathered under the trees in the center of the park, as the large picnic tables along the High Street side and the center of the grassy lawn were completely exposed. There were two children near the picnic tables, but they were sitting in the dirt beneath one of them to escape the heat. Another little boy braved the sun to squat in the empty sand box area and stir a dirty puddle with a stick.


I thought the park was beautiful when they renovated it and my son love the big sand pit. Very sad to see it destroyed.

King Ralph-Good post

And what is that 30' diameter sand pit there for? international sand-castle-building competitions? Does it double as a regulation beach-volleyball court? Strategically located winter weather traction aid stockpile? You could put a hundred kids in there at a time!?! Frigging ridiculous.

i agree the park is in pitiful shape (was just there the other day after a long hiatus), but who else do we expect to use the park on a friday night? 6-year olds? the teens and pre-teens need someone to go.

"Another little boy braved the sun to squat in the empty sand box area and stir a dirty puddle with a stick" instantly becomes the frontrunner for 2010's best line of Charlottesville-area journalism.

Are Hook writers required to take a course in writing provocative copy that will get under the skin of the local pols?

Seriously, though, this is a clear instance of karma --- those trees should never have been felled.

To the city's credit, there are some beautiful parks in Charlottesville - Washington Park tops my own list. And the old McGuffey...

I urge anyone interested in this subject to go down to the park for a look before commenting pro or con. I just got back and can report that neither Dave McNair's words, well chosen as they are, nor the accompanying photographs do it full justice. It reminded me of the set for a particularly stark production of "Waiting for Godot." To my eye, it's an extraordinarily ill-designed, ill-kept, distressing and depressing disgrace.

Also, on the subject of opinion at the time this future mess was in the works, I can attest that there were plenty of objectors on various counts. My letter on one of them, printed in The Hook of 7 July 2007, is below.

To the Editor:

I'm sure your May 30 breaking-news item, "Trees topple in, around, McGuffey Park," triggered memories for many. Mine goes back 50 years.

In 1957, I got my start in public discourse as a fourth-grader at McGuffey School. The cause was a huge mulberry tree that sat in the center of the plain-dirt play area just behind the building. Because one limb branched low and extended almost horizontally, that tree provided not only lovely shade but a long comfy bench that doubled as a natural jungle-gym.

But school officials thought the playground needed improvement and modernization. They would cut down the tree, we were told, then pave where it stood and paint on a basketball court.

In response, I started a petition, one that borrowed a line from poet Joyce Kilmer: "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree. We want to keep ours." I collected several pages of fellow students' signatures. Teachers told me what a fine thing I was doing. Officials cut down the tree and paved the playground.

Such history should not repeat. Charlottesville has never needed shade more than it does now. It has never had so little.

Antoinette W. Roades

"Another little boy braved the sun to squat in the empty sand box area and stir a dirty puddle with a stick."

Print. Cut. Clip file!

Who planned this boondoggle? A bunch of design-school dropouts? How about drought tolerant species instead of a sprinkler system (for years the City planted tons of Ginkos whether they were an optimal species for a particular application or not, simply because they were [are] a personal favorite of Ron Higgins). If mulch won't stay on the hillside, plant ivy or another stabilizing groundcover. Saplings aren't thriving? Rent a tree spade for a day and put some 4 or 5" caliper trees in there! The shade they create will allow the grass to grow, etc. Typical government solution to throw more money at the problem. How bout a $500 reward for tips leading to successful prosecutions for trespassing/vandalism in City parks? Take it out of the $2,500 fines. Put up a camera hidden in a birdhouse. Give me $20k and I'd have this being the jewel of the City's park system in no time, but they'll spend four times as much and it'll still be riddled with problems. frustrating.

Let's blame it on each other!

Let's be honest folks, we have no opposition to the Democratic party and that means we get weak councilors like Norris, Szakos, and worst of them all, the completely ineffectual David Brown. Norris seems to be committed to making this the homeless Mecca of the Mid-Atlantic despite the enormous problems that brings with it, Szakos has neither personality nor agenda from what I can tell, and Brown, is a "Doctor" of Chiropractic, which should have been warning enough.

This city has been run into the ground lately and it won't get any better until there is some healthy opposition to the powers that be. I'm a voter who has never voted anything but Democrat, but I would love to have a strong Republican to support if only in the hope that it would give me a candidate that I could be happy in voting for in a Democratic primary . It's been years since that has been the case in this city.

"World Class" is a hideous joke!

I do miss those old trees! They were so beautiful. And I thought the park was fine before renovation�maybe the equipment needed an update, but that was about it.

I wonder what would happen if teen-oriented program were started at this location? Since the teens are already there, if someone (and I know not who) could start positive experiences there, perhaps it would change what was happening.

Yet another instance of the City of Charlottesville government wasting tax dollars. No biggie - the voters have never and shall never hold them accountable. Let's see...whose turn is it to be mayor next time?

Perhaps it's time Longo to be Longgone- get someone who has some balls, not someone thinking that coming to Charlottesville will be a retirement gig from Baltimore.........

I took my kids to McYuppie once, I just remember there being very little shade and too-big kids playing on the slides. But c'mon, Charlottesville's wasted more money on more dubious projects.

Azalea's next? Every time I go down there, there's four cars and about one car's worth of people on the playgrounds or grass. The other three cars contain sketchy people, doing something in their cars and leaving fast food trash all over the place.

I'd love to see a cop down there- my wife doesn't go down there during the day, what with the shady characters who loiter down there.

So, where is the "trio of North Downtown moms" now? Why did Hook not track them down. I suspect they have moved or lost interest and gone on to some other "improving" project they can babble about to their cool friends who also have too much time on their hands. Or did they raise the vandals now decimating the park?

Oh, and the city can not even build a sandbox??

From the article John Gault posted:
""Through the planning process, which he says was open to the public, "not one person objected to this project.""

Cry babies the lot of you! Quit blaming the City for this mess. Start blaming the parents and guardians.

Don't miss the photo of McGuffey before the renovation --lovely park, beautiful old shade trees, and now all gone.

hahahah you are a thousand years old

Perhaps those who voted to fund this disaster should now be charged with fixing it- on their own time with their own funds.

Enough is enough...............

Forgot to mention in my previous post that people are devolving into animals.

A block away from the new homeless shelter 'The Haven' and two blocks from 'Friendship Square,' that disaster of public housing and gang central, so what else is to be expected?

Yep, "world class city."

Indeed, Bud. In the event we do go downtown at night we stick to the actual mall itself, if possible. I don't feel comfortable venturing down darkened side streets, or that street that runs along Court Square (forget the name) that goes past the parks. And I would never go to the actual parks themselves, forget it. Even getting towards the end of the mall where the Pavilion and the transportation center are makes me nervous at night because there always seems to be these roaming groups of obnoxious and loud teen guys at that particular spot, posturing themselves. To that I say - where are those mall cops on bicycles when you need them?

What's crazy is that this isn't even a big city. There isn't much to it. So when things go bad and options become limited in terms of where one can venture then it gets pretty sad.

@ boo to you - I'm 35. Which is ancient to a teen, but young compared to somebody who's 80 or 90. :D

Yet another reason not to go downtown after dark without some hardware.

An unpalatable remedy: Over the past two decades most malls in American cities and large towns have reverted to being roads for cars. Doing that here might foil the gatherings of the unrulies that are taking control of parts of downtown. @ booo! If it were only "materialism-obsessed parents"! In an academic town like C'ville it is the "tenure-obsessed parents" who have no time for their children.

Janus since you think you a upright citizen why don't you give some funds or just shut up and stop knocking people.

Three points:
1. The park did not need the hideous 'facelift', and praise to the Hook for being critical from the get go (and braving ad hominem attacks). Some folks just seem to need to mark their territory because it makes them feel important. The make over is a total failure on many levels, and the beautiful trees that were felled - especially along 2nd st. and High st. - have created erosion problems.
2. What do these 'movers and shakers' have to say for themselves now? Can anybody be held accountable for the fiasco, the additional costs, an explanation?
3. As for the 'teenagers and adolescents' that have been frequenting the park; it is common knowledge that hordes of teens invade the mall on Friday's, and who can blame them? Young people have a right to hang out and congregate, and most of them are not smoking pot or having sex in the bushes at McGuffey park.


May 10, 2007 issue of the Hook:

"Spending over half a million on McGuffey seems excessive," says preservation activist Steven Meeks. "While I like the idea of recognizing the past history of the site by marking the house location, I don't feel the other elements will withstand the test of time. Why not keep it simple?"

From the same article:

In March, the City Planning Commission awarded the McGuffey Friends the "outstanding neighborhood effort" award for raising the money for the McGuffey Park renovation and shepherding it through the system.

The Hook got a taste of the group's forcefulness when they took issue with our coverage of their project. In a March 21 letter to the editor, Elvira Tate Hoskins and Kristen Suokko accused the Hook of "living up to its reputation of gratuitously trying to stir up controversy by placing a negative spin" on the McGuffey project. "Contrary to the sentiments expressed in your article," the two wrote, "community support for this much-needed renovation has been enormous."

Maybe they will write the editor again!

Stop "hoarding" the kids there and maybe they'll go elsewhere...

That would be one sure way of getting the teens to stop hanging out there.

Now that most of the big trees are gone and the Sun shines so brightly, they could just eliminate the park and make a solar panel farm in keeping with the "greening" of C-ville.

How are the bushes and dirt on those roofs working out to the tune of at least $500,000?

Fear not, all will be well as soon as they repaint those buses.

What are we to make of the fact that this story sees a valid complaint in the claim that the teens at the park are "racially mixed," rather than from North Downtown (that is, presumably white)? This goes beyond wishing for a quiet Friday night. One desire expressed in the piece is to have the geographical and social racial segregation of Charlottesville preserved.

I'd agree that the structural renovation of the park was not entirely successful. The park feels exposed to the sun, as the article notes, and the sandpit is of no use. But I recall that when I used to take my son to the old park, we were almost always the only ones there, whatever time we went. Now when I go with my two children, there are always lots of kids running and playing. We regularly run into people we know (indeed "from all over," rather than just downtown, as the article complains), and meet new friends. I don't know why, but the renovation has opened avenues to community and spontaneous socializing, and this is something we should value.

Now Azalea Park is next on the list. Whenever the words "Ma$ter Plan" are involved shut it down, shut if down fast. I walk to Azalea Park every week please leave it alone. You guys mess up one park and then fall over eachother to spend some more on another. You'er like a UVA kid with dad's gold card. Try not to spend any essential money for just one day. Please

"In 2010, one of two kidnappings in the City occurred on 2nd Street NW."

What kidnappings? Someone please refresh my memory.

The BAR approved tearing down our trees. The "trio of moms" were Elvira Hoskins, Kristen Suokko and Katie Swenson.


Board of Architectural Review
November 15, 2005
Draft Minutes...
Certificate of Appropriateness Application...
Ms. Scala gave the staff report. McGuffy Park and McGuffy School were not yet in the North Downtown District, but they were proposed to be added....
[BAR member] Ms. Swenson stated she would abstain from voting as she was a founding member of Friends of McGuffy Park...
Ms. Suokko explained Friends had been formed in 2004 because the Park was not living up to its potential...
Mr. Atkins called for questions from the public. There being none, he called for questions from the Board...
Mr. Knight stated he was impressed. Conceptually, the proposal was well done. He suggested the applicants consider maintenance as they design...
Ms. Heetderks, having considered the standards set forth within the City Code including the City Design Guidelines for New Construction and for Public Improvements, moved to find the proposed changes satisfy the BAR's criteria and are compatible with this property and the historic district and that the BAR approves the application as submitted with the understanding that materials and additional details will be returning. Mr. Wolf seconded the motion. Mr. Knight offered a friendly amendment that the motion be for approval of "the concept." Ms. Heetderks clarified the motion was for the proposed concept, not the proposed changes. Ms. Heetderks and Mr. Wolf accepted the friendly amendment to reword the motion. The motion carried with Ms. Swenson having recused herself from the vote.

The other BAR meetings were:
December 19, 2006
July 17, 2007
February 20, 2007

Note both spellings are used: McGuffy, McGuffey

Looks like once again the city screwed up, big time.
No wonder its called Parks and Rec- they wreck the parks!
Makes you wonder about the future proposals for McIntire Park. Some keep saying "need to make the park more accessible." But easier access means you will have problems exactly like you have in McGuffey. More people, more problems.
I prefer the parks where the only thing you have to watch out for are bears. Much safer(and more pleasant) places than the urban ones.

The feds also chipped in $60,000.

Things got moving in May 2004 when the North Downtown Neighborhood Association was considering how to spend its $60,000 Federal Block Grant. According to Hoskins, Swenson stood up and gave an "awesome" speech about not just thinking about getting your own sidewalk fixed, but about the improvement of the neighborhood as a whole. The neighborhood association voted to put the entire $60,000 toward renovating McGuffey Park.

Of course, not everyone shares that enthusiasm for the project. North Downtown resident Francis Walton, 62, voted no. "I thought there were better uses for the money," says Walton, citing under-grounding utilities as a way to improve the aesthetics and general maintenance of the neighborhood.

To be fair, it does sound awesome, and they had big collaborative meetings with kids in the park, living sculpture, movies, green roof, etc. The church next door gave $5,000.

But the tree massacre should have been a red flag.

That's the youth of today for you. Sociopaths with absent, materialism obsessed parents raised on violent TV, movies and video games. Then they go out into the world and destroy everything they come into contact with because they weren't raised to know how to channel their energies into productive endeavors. All they know how to do is roam around bored and hyped up, looking for who to attack and what to destroy.

Things are only going to get worse in this world. This is just the start.

This, coupled with the blurb about the Charlottesville City schools, is the kind of thing that drives Albemarle County taxpayers batty. Millions of dollars are skimmed off the top of the County's revenue by the City each year, the city gets an unfair slice of state education funding, and there is apparently no accountability within the city government for how any of the money gets spent.

Money wasted by the city is not buried in some budget line item where the public doesn't see it, but openly and flagrantly. The ineptitude, poor planning and irresponsibility is rewarded by plowing good money after bad with no apparent accountability.

When a reasonable and fair bill is proposed to remedy the iniquity and unfairness of the revenue sharing agreement, city politicians claim that it would mean laying off teachers. But the money that the city openly fritters and wastes away is never mentioned.

This isn't really news. I've been telling you folks for a long time now that the wannabe thugs have totally taken over downtown. And there's not a thing anybody can do about it. Their behavior is so bad they will eventually kill the mall downtown. The cop shoppe can say what people want to hear, but it ends there. And the wannabe thugs laugh at them.

This is very discouraging. And from the people that brought us propane buses and traffic calming that prevented buses & rescue vehicles. You'd think they'd be more reticent to spend freely.

Gosh maybe we need a charrette to work it all out? What's the human analogue to pidgeon mesh?

When the 3 survival instincts, food, shelter and sex come to youth today at no cost thanks to our modernization over the last 100 years then their energies will be put to other endeavors. Or as my Dad used to say, "They have to much time on their hands."

you mean the ONE mall cop on a bicycle?


Has Charlottesville ever fired anyone for poor planning, wasting taxpayer funds, etc? Or do it’s more of a ââ?¬Å?my bad” can I have some more money along with my yearly raise? world class my ???

It saddens me that those vandalizing kids don't have any form of supervision, the solution would be to install bright blinding light poles, motion sensers & servaillance cameras, & drastically clip the foliage that faces High st.

The park is posted as closing at 8 PM. Police it!