Parks Build Community Project 2019: The Renovation of Baltimore’s ABC Park

March 5, 2019, Feature, by Suzanne Nathan

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Each year since 2008, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) organizes a complete park makeover in partnership with a local park agency, park equipment manufacturers and community organizations within the city hosting the NRPA Annual Conference. This annual project, Parks Build Community (PBC), represents the transformative power of parks in communities and how they address NRPA’s three pillars – Conservation, Health and Wellness and Social Equity. PBC projects have included the restoration of existing parks, as well as building new parks completely from scratch. Selecting the location for the PBC project can be an exciting process, and this year was no exception.

When Baltimore was announced as the location for the 2019 NRPA Annual Conference, NRPA reached out to the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks (BCRP) to determine the best location for the 2019 PBC project. BCRP currently manages 4,600+ acres of parkland and 262 parks, 170 athletic fields and more than 120 playgrounds. BCRP’s renovation plans included a handful of projects to consider for the PBC project and site tours were conducted. Catherine ABC Park (ABC Park) quickly rose to the top of the list. It had a park renovation plan in place, which would promote health and wellness-related activities and a concept design that integrated conservation interests. It also has a very active community that had been waiting a long time for an investment in the park, which addressed social equity in the area. ABC Park was identified as the perfect location for the 2019 PBC project and the park renovation plan was expedited.

“I worked on the original renovation plan for ABC Park,” says Sarah Hope, formerly a design planner with BCRP, now a construction project manager with Baltimore County. “The park was well-used and due for a new building and upgrades to the existing playground. The community proved to be great partners in ensuring the plan included what was needed. I’ve never been to a community meeting with so many people in attendance, at least 50. Rather than renovating the park piecemeal, they waited a long time for an investment in the park and they deserve a lot of the credit for receiving this master plan.”

New Features

BCRP is funding portions of the renovation, like the newly constructed building, as originally planned, but plans have been updated to include what donors will provide. Several items in the original advertised project, such as site amenities, a play fountain, basketball posts/backboard/goals, basketball court sealcoat surfacing and playground equipment, have now become available through donations. In addition to what has been designed and advertised by BCRP, donations have also been offered for baseball field bleachers, outdoor fitness equipment, basketball player benches, picnic tables and a drinking fountain.

“It’s pretty exciting to see the project expand with an interest from people who have never been connected with the park in the past and also with more features the community will hopefully enjoy,” says Denise Caldwell, BCRP landscape architect. “NRPA has been great, working hard to get donations and donors.”

ABC Park, located on 2 acres will receive the following:

  • A new 800-square-foot indoor/outdoor field house, as well as new restroom facilities
  • An ADA-compliant splash pad
  • An upgraded and expanded playground
  • State-of-the-art outdoor fitness equipment
  • A new outdoor basketball court
  • New fencing and entrance
  • Modern amenities, including new seating, gathering spaces, bike racks and more

One of the new features is the field house, which is more of a community pavilion. “The new building plan was developed with input from community leader Derwin Hannah and focuses on a large indoor/outdoor room that can be opened on three sides to the outdoors,” says Lance Decker, BCRP architect. “There will be a big porch with a uniquely shaped roof held up by tree trunk columns from Ash trees that were slated for removal from the West side of Baltimore but are structurally perfect for this purpose. This new space will be great for ongoing park activities, community gatherings and park festivals.”

Seeing the importance of PBC projects and wanting to contribute, NRPA partners with donors who work with the local agency to provide their products and services at no cost. Many of the donors are already approved vendors of BCRP, and they have each carefully considered the community’s needs regarding the equipment to be installed. “We have been involved with NRPA and the Parks Build Community for a number of years,” says Brian Johnson, chief marketing officer for BCI Burke. “Being a part of each of the projects has been rewarding for us at Burke because we can see the impact on the communities involved. Our mission is to bring Play to Communities and this is one way we can truly partner with NRPA and with Baltimore this year to reinvent that park space with an innovative playscape. We are providing a Burke Nucleus play structure with some of our new products like the Luge® Slide, Solis™ Toppers and a Verve® Climbing System.”

Anne-Marie Spencer, corporate vice president of marketing for PlayCore, says: “For Baltimore, we knew they wanted something to encourage family engagement, so our Expression Swing was the perfect response to that need. Invented by our GameTime team, it allows a parent and child to swing together face to face — promoting family time and gleeful activity! Our philosophy is to develop research with leading scholars and universities then apply that to our wide range of products to build play, fitness, aquatic and leisure spaces that are loved and used regularly by the community.”

“As part of Greenfields’ mission to promote wellness and fight obesity one community at a time, we are looking to provide exercise opportunities to as many people as possible and eliminate common obstacles to working out,” says Sam Mendelsohn, president and CEO of Greenfields Outdoor Fitness, which will be donating the outdoor fitness equipment. He adds: “Inclusive design is another key factor we take into account — by designing fitness areas with equipment for those in wheelchairs, users with disabilities can enjoy this same social environment with the rest of the population, instead of being segregated into “adapted” areas or classes. The ABC Park unit selection includes five units that accommodate 14 people, one of which can be in a wheelchair (and more than that for wheelchair users who can transfer.) It’s our hope that with this addition to the project, ABC Park will be a welcoming place for the whole community to exercise together.”

“In Baltimore, we are building to meet the city’s wishes — accessible and sustainable, low-flow solution that requires low maintenance,” says Stephen Hamelin, CEO and president at Vortex. “Our design approach is based on sustainability’s three pillars. We design our splash pads to promote play across all ages and abilities (Social), long-term usability and low maintenance (Economic) and with little waste in materials and water (Environmental). Our ultimate goal is to make every aquatic play experience a positively transformative one for everyone.”

“Epic Outdoor Cinema proudly supports the Baltimore PBC Project with a donation of one of our newest Premier SLIMLINE™ silent, inflatable screens to enhance outdoor events serving as a gathering place for families and residents of all ages while encouraging a true community centerpiece for connection,” said Nick Toutoungi, the company’s managing director. “The portability and versatility of our screen will create new opportunities to make an epic impact with minimal staffing needs. We are inspired knowing that our contribution not only allows us to join an initiative that addresses the most relevant and pressing needs of saving our parks; it is a great way to collaborate with other like-minded businesses leading the industry with positive influence.” California Sports Surfaces, which will be installing the basketball court, has long been involved with NRPA and are honored to be asked to participate in the Parks Build Project. “For the basketball court at ABC Park, we are providing our Streetscape multipurpose system, which is the ideal solution to create a colorful medium-texture, nonskid surface that will provide UV protection for the asphalt subsurface, as well as consistent and sure footing for the players,” says Tom Magner, the company’s director of sales. “The installation will be done by our longtime partners and good friends at ATC Corp, who are based right in Baltimore. It will be exciting to see the transformation at ABC Park and look forward to seeing our court installed there,” he adds.

On December 11, 2018, BCRP hosted a groundbreaking ceremony at ABC Park, see the video on the Parks Build Community webpage. The park is scheduled for a grand reopening in September, during the 2019 NRPA Annual Conference. A new element for this PBC project is a research component. NRPA is working with Johns Hopkins University and NC State University to examine park usage before and after the renovation. More information about the research portion of the project will be shared in upcoming articles. NRPA looks forward to seeing the impact and enjoyment this renovated park will bring to the surrounding community.

PBC is a national initiative, demonstrating the transformative value of parks on the health and vitality of communities across America. The vision to build and revitalize parks as thriving gathering places for youth, families and adults is one shared by NRPA, its industry and nonprofit partners, and the thousands of park and recreation professionals who develop and maintain these treasured public places. For more information about PBC projects or to become a donor, please email Gina Mullins-Cohen, NRPA’s VP of marketing, communications and publishing.

Suzanne Nathan is NRPA’s Media Specialist