In the latest of a series of delays that have pushed back the reopening of Richmond’s oldest public park, Monroe Park will remain closed to the public until the middle of September.
Donald Summers, a capital project manager in the city’s Department of Public Works, said last month that the city would remove the fence surrounding the 8-acre park for a “soft opening,” originally scheduled for Aug. 29. Now, the city and the nonprofit leading the renovation have ruled out removing the fence until the middle of this month.
“After much discussion all parties agreed the prudent decision is to delay the soft opening until mid-September,” said Summers, who is overseeing the project for the Department of Public Works. “The previous 40 days of rain events created more pressure for completion than anticipated by all.”
Summers said wet conditions prevented crews from finishing “critical site work,” including the park’s new pedestrian paths. Rain fell on 16 days in August and totaled 3.35 inches, according to figures kept at Richmond International Airport.
The decision to hold off on the soft opening came after a meeting of the city, VCU and the Monroe Park Conservancy, the nonprofit that has leased the park from the city and has raised about half of the $6.8 million for park improvements.
“We’re trying to open it ASAP,” said Alice Massie, president of the conservancy. “We’re trying really, really hard to open it.”
A ribbon-cutting is scheduled for Sept. 27, Summers said.
The soft opening isn’t the first self-imposed deadline the city and conservancy have failed to meet. They aimed to reopen the park by Aug. 15, in time for VCU students returning to campus for the fall semester. That timeline represented a delay from a June reopening that passed by as work continued.
The park has been fenced off since November 2016. At the time, officials said renovations would take 12 to 18 months to complete.
September marks the 22nd month the park has been closed.
On Tuesday, the Richmond Planning Commission approved the planting of a dozen Kay Parris magnolia bushes to screen an electrical panel installed behind the World War II memorial that stands in the park.
The electrical panel’s installation during the ongoing renovation has drawn the ire of some residents and advocates, who have said it is disrespectful to the service members honored on the brick memorial and questioned whether its positioning violates the state’s prohibition on altering war memorials.
Summers has said the city doesn’t think it has run afoul of the state law. Relocating the panel at this point could cost between $80,000 and $100,000, he said.
Charles Pool, speaking on behalf of the Oregon Hill Home Improvement Council, objected to the placement and called it “disgraceful.” He predicted the plantings, rather than simply screening the electrical panel, would produce an unintended outcome.
“Where do you think people are going to go to the bathroom?” Pool said. “This is going to be a memorial urinal.”
Councilman Parker Agelasto, who represents Oregon Hill, also condemned the electrical panel’s placement at Tuesday’s commission meeting.
Ultimately, the commission voted to support a recommendation forwarded by the Urban Design Committee, approving the plantings with the condition that a security camera be installed atop the electrical panel to monitor the area.