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A 16-acre wooded lot along Beaverdam Creek that once was an eyesore for Hill Street residents – and a familiar stop for police officers patrolling the neighborhood – has recently transformed into the center of the community.
Raleigh has owned the property off Skycrest Drive north of the Beltline since 1973, but for years, it offered little more than a picnic table. Last week, after construction projects that spanned several years and cost $1.5 million, a revived park and a new community center opened.
The building itself is hard to miss with its living green roof and walls of bright blue, green, orange and yellow. Surrounding the main building, a playground features slides and all kinds of things to climb on, and a covered picnic area offers grills and tables. The first of the planned walking trails stretches into the woods.
Several dozen people showed up to the park’s ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday. By the time the doors opened, all the parking spaces were taken and cars lined the street.
Juan Chavez was among those who came to check out what the community center has to offer. Chavez said his family lives nearby and he expects that his 4- and 8-year-old kids will be there often. On Wednesday, both of the kids made a beeline for the playground, where they stayed busy for a couple of hours.
“We don’t like to be inside,” Chavez said. “We like to take the kids to all the parks, and now we’ll come here. It’s a good place for the kids to play, to have a picnic.”
Inside the building, yoga and Zumba classes will run weekly, staff members will teach arts and crafts to children, and opportunities to learn basic English and Spanish will be offered.
City policy requires energy-efficient features to be included in new buildings larger than 10,000 square feet. The center is smaller than that but still includes efficient lighting and low-flow toilets that are expected to save the city money over time.
Dick Bailey, design administrator for the Parks and Recreation Department, said the building’s design makes it 30 percent cheaper to operate compared to a traditional facility of the same size.
Bailey said the staff presence at the center will set it apart from many similar neighborhood facilities around the city, though it could be replicated more widely in the future.
Erica Ramos, manager of the community center, said it will be open from 2 to 8 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. The first few months will be a learning process as she tries to figure out what exactly the community wants out of the facility, Ramos said.
“A lot of the community centers don’t have this level of staff, so here they’ll be able to offer a lot more activities,” Bailey said.
“All we had here was a picnic table, which gave us a lot of trouble back in the early years,” said Raleigh Councilman John Odom, who led the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “But we have grown. ... Community is about people, and it’s wonderful to see the community that lives around here ... out to celebrate this park.”