Anxiety and excitement swirl around reconstruction of Fort Kid

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The City of Knoxville sits $300,000 closer to their goal of rebuilding the Fort Kid play area.

A city media release says businessman Thomas Boyd is offering up $200,000 toward a public-private partnership to “re-energize and upgrade” the playground. An anonymous donor also pledged $100,000.

That puts the total budget for reconstruction at Fort Kid at $600,000.

Knoxville’s 2019-2020 budget earmarked $300,000 to prepare the site for safety and accessibility upgrades, set to begin later this year. Replacing the retaining wall surrounding the play area with a grassy slope is part of those funds.

The need for the major reconstruction on the site comes after it closed for five months beginning November 2, when a Knox County Health Department and an inspector found several problems including exposed nails, trip hazards and splintered wood. The city found many of the wooden components of the playground to be worn out and in need of replacing. It also is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The mom behind Fort Kid fears the city is actually tearing it all down to start over.

Beth Waters remembers approaching former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe with the proposal for a new play area to commemorate Knoxville’s bicentennial. She said 2,500 volunteers pulled it off in five days. She explained the fundraising as a grassroots effort that took a year and a half to secure enough money.

She describes Fort Kid as being like a third kid. It makes sense when you ask her about those fundraising efforts, negotiations, and hard-work that ensued to make the play area happen in the short amount of time. Now she’s worried it will all be taken away, with no concrete plan to replace it.

“I shouldn’t be dreaming about bulldozers but I am. Until we’re ready for a new Fort Kid, and all the plans in place, and the finance, and hopefully the community’s input, I would just suggest we leave it here for the time being because it’s so active and important for the kids who are playing on it today,” Waters said.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said, “It is the city’s intention to partner with the community to reconstruct and enhance Fort Kid. We’re grateful to Thomas Boyd and other donors for stepping up to make Fort Kid the very best it can be.”

Boyd, who owns Rebel Kitchen, Old City Wine Bar, Barley’s and Merchants of Beer, also plans to hold a music festival to raise more money for the cause.

Rachel Kinney remembers playing on the same things she used to play on and she remembers her dad being one of the hundreds of volunteers making it happen.

“I still have memories of watching my dad built this, and him talk about it and how passionate he was about it, so it’s really important for me to see that it stays,” she said.

Kinney is in favor of any upgrades that lead to a safer, more stable, play space.

“I want it to be safe and I want it to be able to be preserved for future generations. So that’s wonderful news to me,” Kinney said.

The release says the public will be able to share their ideas for designs and amenities for the new play area. There is also a public charette set to take place later this year. The release, specifically, states “The City and its partners hope to complete the fundraising and design work for the new play area by the time the site preparation begins and the new playground is closed temporarily at the end of the year.”

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