Neighborhood park plan on former Charles A. Bell School site moves ahead

Grading work is evident on a portion of this property on Central Avenue in Alton Park. The award of a construction contract this week by the city council set the wheels in motion in this view looking north at 3501 Central Ave.
photo Grading work is evident at a new park located on Central Avenue in Alton Park. The award of a construction contract this week by the city council set the wheels in motion in this view looking west at 3501 Central Ave.

The Chattanooga City Council's vote this week to approve $887,000 for a new park on the old Charles A. Bell School site cleared the final hurdle for the long-awaited Alton Park project.

P&C Construction is expected to break ground next month at the former brownfield site on Central Avenue. City officials said the park should be complete in June.

"I think it's going to be great to have a park in the community instead of a piece of flat land with nothing on it and no vision in sight to put something on it," said Rosemary Porter, South Chattanooga Leadership Advisory Council co-chairwoman.

The school closed in 1989, and the county-owned building sat vacant until its demolition in 2011.

Now under city ownership, the soon-to-be park will be the culmination of years of community organizing.

"One of the things that excites me the most is that when I go out there and talk to residents, they're really excited about the park," Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said.

Neighborhood residents involved in the planning process indicated their desire for a park heavy with green space and catering to "passive" outdoor activity, according to Porter and officials who attended community meetings about the park plan.

A rendering shows a quarter- mile walking path, ample green space and a pavilion with restrooms and picnic tables.

The park could be a hub for special events, block parties and picnics, suggested Lori Goerlich, city open spaces director.

"This is going to be a neighborhood park," Goerlich said. "It was designed with participation from the neighborhood and will serve them for everyday sort of passive park use."

A proposed greenway connecting Alton Park to the Tennessee Riverwalk along an abandoned rail corridor would eventually have its trailhead at the park.

Goerlich said the city plans to ask local residents to help choose a permanent name for the park.

"Every facet of the park was chosen by residents in the immediate area," said Chris Anderson, the district's city councilman. "They chose where the parking goes, they chose where the pavilion is, what it looks like, where the benches go.

"This was truly a community-driven process. I just found the money for them and said, 'We're going to build a park. What do you want there?'"

Stop Toxic Pollution founder and Alton Park resident Milton Jackson said he would have liked to see baseball or soccer fields at the site, "to give our young people something to do."

Jackson was among some residents who called the park's progress into question last year, but he said he was unable to attend the final community meetings.

Porter said she felt the community planning process went well and that residents were given "ample opportunity" to provide input.

"People in the community will have somewhere to go and relax and enjoy themselves," she said. "It sat there for about 25 years with just a dilapidated building on it. So I think the community will love to see it renovated into something nice."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at or 423-757-6249.