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Monroe Park to close for 12-18 months as upgrades usher in new era

Monroe Park 6

RICHMOND, Va. – Historic Monroe Park will close in early November, and when it reopens in late 2017– or likely in 2018 — it will be a renovated green space under watchful management.

The oldest park in Richmond will be upgraded to 21st century environmental standards while preserving aspects of its historical significance; the fountain will be restored, as will the primary structure the Checkers House, in a future phase.

Initial construction will bring extensive infrastructure upgrades to antiquated underground sewer, gas, water, and electrical systems.

The $6 million in funding for the project was split between the city and the Monroe Park Conservancy, whose 30-year lease –approved unanimously by City Council in 2014 — and stewardship of the park begins once construction is completed.

The initial $3 million from the city funds infrastructure, which has not been changed since 1920.

The second phase of work will be taking the $3 million raised by the conservancy and “putting the top back together,” said Alice Massie, Monroe Park Conservancy president.

Though the layout will be maintained, the asphalt walkways will be replaced by compacted stone dust and raised to grades consistent with park lawn.

Plantings will honor the “historic plant palette” and include a substantial perimeter planting of American Elms.

Parkgoers will enjoy free WiFi, as well as better LED lighting.

New landscaping after the infrastructure upgrades are made will include more native plants and better sight lines.

New landscaping after the infrastructure upgrades are made will include more native plants and better sight lines.

Other park amenities will eventually include movable tables and chairs, game areas including petanque and quoits courts, and a broad play lawn which can also be used for special events such as community theater and music.

The existing Checkers House may one day have a small café, the conservancy hopes.

And thanks to the donation from a VCU graduate, there will be a permanent ping pong table; an unexpected but appreciate donation worth thousands.

The 7.5-acre park was established in 1851 and has transitioned through the centuries, from a state fairground to a military encampment, to a respite for nearby students and neighborhoods, as well as the homeless population.

Monroe Park will close for at least a year for major renovations.

Monroe Park will close for at least a year for major renovations.

While the renovations hope to usher in new life and modern infrastructure, there are concerns from over the relocation of homeless during construction.

The 12 to 18-month closure – warranted for obvious safety purposes — has many either upset at the loss

Homeward and United Way urge those interested in providing food and clothing, or those wanting to receive them, to call 211 for assistance.

“We want people who bring goods and services to partner with other people and organizations that already exist,” Massie said. “If you are somebody who brings meals to the park, find somebody who brings meals downtown; keep the fellowship going, but find another venue.”

The Checkers house in Monroe Park.

The Checkers house in Monroe Park.

The public/private partnership, which divides responsibility into thirds among the city, VCU and the conservancy, will be a new era for the park.

This is a common practice nationally, including Bryant Park or Central Park in New York and Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.

Richmond is actually behind the times when it comes to such models of management, Massie said.

The conservancy insists there is a commitment to keeping Monroe “a public park with access for all.”

“When the park is finished, the most important thing is that you have a green space that belongs to the public but it is also a healthy, urban living room,” Massie said.