An unusual public/private partnership is redesigning a downtown, neighborhood park that doubles as a playground for children at Logan Elementary School and was the focus of controversy last year.
If the project is a success, the Junior League of Columbia hopes a better Roy Lynch Park in the Elmwood Park neighborhood will open the door to the organization teaming with the city to improve other public parks.
“We’ve got the woman power as well as the financial resources to do more projects like this in the future,” Ginny Stout Hairston, the league’s president, said Friday.
The league is $40,000 short of its $100,000 fundraising goal for Roy Lynch, Hairston said, adding the organization may offer to allow companies to put their names on park features as a way to lure more corporate sponsorships.
A final design has not been completed, said Parks and Recreation Department director Jeff Caton and Scott Lambert of a Columbia architectural firm that is working on the project. But some of the features under consideration are new playground equipment, a walking path that would wend its way through the one-acre park, a better splash pad, an improved entryway, taller fencing along Elmwood Avenue, and perhaps a butterfly garden, Caton said.
Residents are to see a 3-D model of the design concept Monday at the neighborhood association’s monthly meeting, said Christopher Wormley, the group’s president.
City Council will review the design plan by early February, Caton said. “I think we’re pretty close to a finished product,” he said of the design concept. Neither the city nor the league would release the design Friday.
A construction start date and cost estimates have not been determined, the parks director said. “We’re still kind of in the throes of the whole process. It’s going to take a little while to flesh out.”
The Junior League has worked with Richland 1 schools for years. But this is the first time it has taken on a construction project, she said.
Hairston said the plan is to have the city match the $100,000 the league wants to raise. Most of the nearly $60,000 in hand came from the organization’s operating budget, she said. AFLAC and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina are the only major donors so far and they have contributed about $10,000, the league president said. Organizers hope to reach their financial goal by the end of the summer, Hairston said.
Parks director Caton said the amount of money raised and City Council’s decision on public funding will determine whether the park is upgraded at one time or in phases. There is no money in this year’s parks budget designated for an upgrade of Roy Lynch, he said.
The park made headlines last spring when council considered making it the state’s first “minor-child play zone.” That would have limited who could be with children at the park and made violators subject to fines up to $500 or 30 days in jail. A former neighborhood association president, Chuck Archie, requested help from the city after some neighbors complained on unsafe conditions at the park.
The Elmwood Park neighborhood split deeply over the proposal. Supporters liked the idea of a law designed to protect children in city parks. Opponents questioned how such a law could be enforced and saw it as government overreach.
Ultimately, neighbors voted 3-1 in December against the designation, association president Wormley said. That killed the plan for Roy Lynch, because the child protection zone law council adopted in concept requires that neighborhoods publicly support any child safety zone before the city would move to create them.
Wormley said child safety remains the chief concern for a redesigned park, especially one with clear sight lines throughout. Last year, the city erected two new light poles and surveillance cameras were installed in the interior and along Elmwood Avenue after complaints about drinking, drug use and public sex in the park.
Wormley said he’s unaware of additional sexual incidents since the lights and cameras were installed.
Logan school children were asked to submit their suggestions for what they would like to see in the playground and what they don’t want, Wormley said. Those suggestions are to be incorporated into the rebuilt park.