Alton Park residents heard years of unfulfilled promises about a park at the former Charles A. Bell School site. But Thursday, they saw action as Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and other elected officials broke ground on the $1 million 5-acre park.
"It's not going to happen. It is happening," said Doyd Cox while walking near the park Thursday. Cox is project manager with Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon, the company that designed the site.
Chattanooga-based P&C Construction began work on the site Jan. 21. Workers have already laid out the park, put up boarders and laid hay on the soil to keep it stable. They expect to have some concrete laid for the park by today, said Michael Brown, project manager with P&C Construction.
The only challenge has been the rain, he said, adding he anticipates the project will be complete by June 2.
Parking will be at both ends. There will be a pavilion and a quarter-mile walking trail and benches. Restrooms and water fountain are also included. In the center will be a large field intended for football, soccer and other sports.
City Councilman Chris Anderson called the park his "signature accomplishment." He said the community has been a place that has had many promises, but not many of them have been delivered. He wanted to make sure that the park was not going to be another broken promise.
"There kept being roadblocks that prevented us from moving forward," Anderson said. "But with people like Terry McCullough, Rose Mary Porter, Tony Hare and other community leaders, we're finally here and it shows what we can do when we work together toward a common goal."
And Berke, speaking to about two dozen people gathered, shared some history about the site.
"You all probably know this history but it's important to talk about it for just a minute," Berke said. "This was the site of the old Charles A. Bell School, and for decades, it was a place humming with activity. Once it went vacant, it sat there, dilapidated as blight in this neighborhood."
The former school closed in 1989. It sat as an eyesore for years until it was demolished in 2011.
Eighty-year-old Hattie Boyd watched the groundbreaking from her driveway across the street from the park.
"It's a good thing," Boyd said. "We need something out here for the young people to do. This is real nice."
There will be a community meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Bethlehem Center where residents will discuss a name for the park.
Long-time resident Rose Mary Porter said the park is only the beginning and she expects the park's walking trail will eventually connect to the Tennessee River Walk.
On Thursday, she expressed her excitement, quoting the late soul singer Sam Cooke.
"It's been a long time coming, but [I know] a change is gonna come."