Gaston Park and South Memphis Community Center to undergo renovations

Gaston Community Center, one of the oldest community centers in Memphis, is getting a facelift.

A $3.4 million renovation is part of the $200 million Accelerate Memphis bond program.

“Our goal is for the united culture of the 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 are already taking place here. [The redesign] will simply encourage them to develop this programming.”

The design goal is to make the park and community center more welcoming by removing subtle and off-putting cues, including removing fences along the park, repairing a leaky roof, upgrading light fixtures, and replacing concrete-filled windows since the 1970s, Walker said. .

Nick Walker, Mayor Strickland, Marlon Foster, Shelby Ford County Commissioner and directors of the Gaston Community Center begin demolition during the renovation ceremony on May 10, 2022.

Other renovations to the property include:

  • Improved exterior appearance
  • Front office demolished
  • New games room
  • New multipurpose rooms
  • New stage curtains
  • New training room.

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Renovations are expected to take place over the next 10 months, but the design process took nearly a year.

Alan Barner, president of MFA – Memphis Parks’ project management company, said interior construction will begin immediately and community members will begin to see exterior changes by late fall.

Marlon Foster, Founder and CEO of quest for knowledgeexpressed the importance of aesthetics and, above all, functionality as sustainable solutions for community safety.

“Security has its place. Security should always be a priority. But when we close the windows and many gates and 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 start to honor safety, but also let our design speak to that higher good that we all represent, I think that’s going to be revelatory for the kids, for all of their families, and for our whole neighborhood.”

Walker said the parks department will need to adjust its programming based on how the new facility will look and what residents would like to see. Knowledge Quest, an educational nonprofit, donated $125,000 for furnishings and building technology and will offer daily after-school programs in arts, technology and athletics at the center once it reopens.

Potential voters enter the Gaston Community Center on Thursday afternoon on election day.

For Foster, a longtime South Memphis resident, the organization’s investment in the community center is as much a personal motivation as it is a professional one.

“I think we communicate value through aesthetics. We have a community like South Memphis, especially Gaston Park, where identity has been so tied to that physical space over the decades, I think there’s had a lot of valuable communication to the kids,” he said. “This community center is becoming the litmus test of how we respond to and how we value communities across the state of Memphis. So I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

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Mayor Jim Strickland hopes the city’s investment in South Memphis will spark greater commercial and residential growth to generate more revenue for the area.

“If we just look to the municipal government to revitalize areas, we don’t have enough money to do it. … We have to provide services, we have to buy fire trucks and police cars … We don’t have enough money to do it. don’t have enough money on our own,” he said. “But if we, if we invest in the right way, under [Memphis] 3.0, and investing in some of these historic structures will hopefully, in turn, be able to spur further growth.”

Astrid Kayembe covers South Memphis, Whitehaven and Westwood. She can be reached at [email protected](901) 304-7929 or on Twitter @astridkayembe_.

Jill E. Washington