McGuffey Park update: The spicas have sprung

The spicas, spinner bowls, and edge climbing structure have all arrived at McGuffey Park as part of its $679,000-plus renovation. But according to City spokesperson Ric Barrick, the park renovation is about 24 days behind schedule and $10,000 to $20,000 over budget because of some "unexpected masonry work" and the loss of about 10 newly planted trees due to the drought conditions this summer.

"The retaining wall along High Street turned out to be more difficult than expected," says Barrick, "...the contractor didn't quite have the expertise they needed." Update 1:55pm: Barrick wishes to clarify this statment, saying he meant that "the contractor didn't anticipate the complexity of the work."

Still, Barrick says the City has "high hopes" that the fancy new park, which includes a round basketball court and a "weeping water wall," will be finished by October 26.

Barrick also announced a joint City/Friends of McGuffey Park dedication ceremony in early November. The McGuffey Friends, a group founded by downtown moms Elvira Tate Hoskins, Kristen Suokko, and Charlottesville Community Design Center founder Katie Swenson, privately raised over $279,000 for the renovation (the city kicked in $400,000), and were given an "outstanding neighborhood effort" award by the City Planning Commission earlier this year.

Be that as it may, some locals have questioned the city's priorities in funding the makeover, characterizing it as an expensive "vanity" project designed to serve a select downtown demographic.

"Spending $400,000 on that one little park is a travesty," says Charlottesville resident Kevin Cox. "There aren't enough cops on the street, and the city wastes money on a playground." Even North Downtown Neighborhood Association president Collette Hall admitted she was surprised by the amount the city allocated to the project. And after the project began, some were also concerned about the number of trees that were removed.

However, in a March letter to the editor, Hoskins and Suokko accused the Hook of stirring up "controversy by placing a negative spin" on the McGuffey project by reporting such comments. Around the same time, McGuffey Friends supporter Catherine Malone suggested the Hook's coverage was a "vendetta" against the McGuffey Friends because this reporter had been "turned down" by one of the "wonderful women" who founded the group [Letter, "Was your reporter jilted?" June 28].

Three months later, in a Daily Progress article on the park project, Hoskins was quoted as characterizing the old McGuffey Park as a place where "illegal activity" went on at night, and where "needles and condoms" were found in the morning. However, a Charlottesville police incident report showed just a handful of incidents since 2004 involving any kind of illegal activity at McGuffey, and only three involving a drug or narcotics violation.

One long-time downtown resident told the Hook she used to walk her dogs through the park at least five or six times a week, at all hours of the day and night, and had never felt threatened or once seen a condom or needle. In fact, the police incident report showed that nearby Lee Park experienced far more violations than McGuffey.

After a recent look at the park, with its parched earth and piles of rubble, it's hard to imagine it will be finished in time for Halloween. Still, Barrick remains optimistic and hopes the park's opening will be a "celebration" of the joint effort between the City and its citizens.