Gaston Community Center, one of Memphis’ oldest community centers, is getting a facelift.
A $3.4 million renovation is part of the $200 million Accelerate Memphis bond package.
“Our goal is for the close-knit culture of South Third Street community to be reflected in the type of programming and activities that take place here,” said Nick Walker, director of parks and neighborhoods, at the renovation ceremony Monday. “They already take place here. [The redesign] will just encourage them to grow that programming.”
The design goal is to make the park and community center more inviting by removing subtle off-putting cues including removing fencing along the park, fixing a leaking roof, enhancing lighting fixtures and replacing windows that had been filled with concrete since the 1970s, Walker said.
Other renovations at the facility include:
- Improved outer appearance
- Demolished front office
- New game room
- New multi-purpose rooms
- New stage curtains
- New exercise facility.
The renovations are expected to take place over the next 10 months, but the design process has been almost a year in the making.
Alan Barner, president of MFA — the project management company for Memphis Parks, said interior construction will begin immediately, and community members will begin to see exterior changes by the end of fall.
Marlon Foster, founder and executive director of Knowledge Quest, expressed the importance of aesthetics and, especially, functionality as sustainable solutions for safety in the community.
“Security has its place. Safety needs to always be a priority. But when we board up windows and a lot of gates and the bars also communicate, ‘I don’t trust you.’ It also communicates, ‘I’m not safe here.’ It also communicates, ‘You’re a threat,'” Foster said. “So when we begin to honor safety, but also let our design speak to that higher good that all of us represent, I think is going to be telling for the children, for all their families and for our whole neighborhood.”
Walker said the parks department will have to adjust its programming based on how the new facility looks and what residents would like to see. Knowledge Quest, a nonprofit education organization, donated $125,000 for furnishings and technology for the building and will have daily after-school programming in arts, technology and athletics at the center once it reopens.
For Foster, a lifelong resident of South Memphis, the organization’s investment in the community center is as much a personal motivation as it is professional.
“I think that we communicate value through aesthetics. We have a community like South Memphis, in particular Gaston Park, where identity is so connected to this physical space over the decades, I think there’s been a lot of communicating value to the children,” he said. “This community center becomes the litmus test of how we respond and how we value communities across the state of Memphis. So I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Mayor Jim Strickland hopes the city’s investment in South Memphis will trigger more commercial and housing growth to generate more revenue for the area.
“If we look only to city government to revitalize areas, we don’t have enough money to do that. … We have to provide services, we have to buy fire trucks and police cars… We don’t have enough money on our own,” he said. “But if we, if we invest in the right ways, under [Memphis] 3.0, and invest in some of these historic structures, hopefully, it in turn, can spur other growth.”
Astrid Kayembe covers South Memphis, Whitehaven and Westwood. She can be reached at [email protected], (901) 304-7929 or on Twitter @astridkayembe_.