Originally created 02/22/01

Building of park begins



After nearly three years, an architectural switch and several budget recalculations, construction on Springfield Village Park on Reynolds Street has finally begun.

Isaac Johnson says he couldn't be more proud.

"I've learned a lot about the good side of the slave era through this project," said Mr. Johnson, a member of the foundation who made the project possible. "We had free people living in Augusta who built all this. We've uncovered a tremendous amount of new history, and the main thing I learned is it wasn't all bad - that's what I like."

The park, honoring the area's black heritage, will be next to the historic Springfield Baptist Church, one of the nation's oldest black churches and the birthplace of Augusta Institute, which later moved to Atlanta and became Morehouse College.

Mr. Johnson is a fifth-generation member of the church and serves as its treasurer. As a member of the governing board of the Springfield Village Park Foundation, he has seen firsthand the struggle of making the park a reality.

Various budget projections - from $3 million to $6 million - were originally tossed around. The project price tag currently sits at $1.6 million, but that figure might grow to include the cost of three reflector pools if the foundation can raise the money to pay for them.

The $1.6 million "was enough money to get this thing up and going and about 90 percent built," said Phil Prince, project superintendent for the Evans company Allen-Batchelor Construction Inc. "They intend to have more money for some finishing touches at some point during construction."

In the end, the foundation secured $1.3 million from a city sales tax; the rest of the funding is through public and private grants.

"We need additional donations in order to make the park the best it can be," Mr. Johnson said. "The foundation is a nonprofit group; the donations are tax deductible and can be sent through the church."

Stevens & Wilkinson of Georgia Inc., an Atlanta-based engineering architectural company, has taken over the designing duties.

The park was originally to be designed by Jackson, Person & Associates, a landscape architecture firm in Memphis, Tenn., responsible for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

Unfortunately, the foundation members found, the firm couldn't capture the Springfield Village history.

"That group was doing modern stuff," Mr. Johnson said. "We wanted to put emphasis on the past - we got out there, and their ideas just weren't dealing with the area's history."

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or jbanks15@hotmail.com.