Residents say Sluggish Movements and Little Improvements
Mounds of dirt, crooked wooden and metal protective fencing, heaps of lumber and construction caution signs. This is the site at the upper level of the Meridian Hill Park, which after 5 years of unsteady renovation, is yet to reopen its doors, now slated for the end of this Spring.
Located in northwest Washington DC and bordered by 15th, 16th, Euclid, and W streets, Meridian Hill Park, also called Malcolm X Park, attracts many visitors and residents who seek to enjoy the scenery of its historical statues, famous staircase cascading water fountain and grassy fields often used for playing soccer. It is also a primary attraction in the Spring and Summer seasons for the famous drum circles on Sundays.
Unfortunately for these park lovers, much of the upper level lawn area of the12 acre historic park has been closed off for public use, due to renovations beginning last year.
Janay Trott, 21, a student of Howard University and a resident of Columbia Heights says she enjoys going to the park, but she is not impressed with the renovation process. “This lengthy construction project has brought little visible improvement to the park,” she said. “You can’t even enjoy the scenery in the park anymore, without seeing a rusty fence.”
With Spring in full swing and only 8 weeks left for Summer to begin, the renovation project estimated at $6.2 million has left many residents of Columbia Heights wondering when the park will be completely repaired and reopened for its full use to the public.
Jay Steede, 19, a resident in the Meridian Hill Hall, an off-campus dormitory for Howard University, says he is growing weary of seeing the park muddled with construction equipment. “For the past year, since I have been attending Howard, all I have seen in this park is construction tractors and heaps of dirt but no improvements” he said.
Meridian Hill Park, first erected in 1914, is maintained and administered by the National Park Service as part of Rock Creek Park.
The National Park Service informed the public in a news update last August that during construction, work is being done in phases so that some portions of the park can remain open to the public.
According to Rock Creek Park officials, the first phase of the construction totaling $3.2 million is complete. Phase one was focused on fixing the lower level of the park which included repairing the electrical, pump and piping system to ensure that all fountains in the park such as the cascade are functioning, repairing benches and restoring the park’s historic pavements, walls and stairways.
The second phase of the construction is still in progress. In a press release, the Superintendent of the Rock Creek Park, Adrienne Coleman, explained that phase two of the project includes restoration of the police lodge house on the park’s upper level which will contain new features such a drinking water fountain and restrooms. He also stated that during this phase drainage problems are being corrected and walkways are being repaired.
Martha Wildrow, 49, a frequent visitor to the park, is anxious for the renovations to be completed and suggested that if the grass, pavements and the building (referring to the police lodge) are to be fully repaired, there needs to be more construction consistency on the site and more contracted workers to execute the process much faster.
Although the National Park Service is aware of the growing concerns of park-goers, NPS spokespeople say that finishing renovations to the park to meet the deadline is of utmost importance.
Wildrow, like many other residents, is fed up with the sluggish movements of contractors. “I don’t think that all the work on the lawn level will be done by the end of Spring – well at least not at the pace in which they are moving” she said.
On the contrary, Marco Enterprises official, Doug Huffman, overseer of the landscaping maintenance and repairs, says that the park will in fact be finished for its scheduled opening. “In about 30-35 days the grounds should be ready to be reopened” he said.
“We are in the process of laying the foundation and replacing the grass. We are also putting in some flowers and shrubs.”
Marco Enterprises officials also explained that much of the work planned for the second phase of the project are in the final stages to being complete and that the project is still on schedule for the parks’ re-opening at the end of Spring.
Shiralka Bennett is a student at Howard University and a resident of Columbia Heights. Ms. Bennett contributed this story as a part of a requirement for her journalism course.
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