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Kid-ding around: Jonesborough residents debate degree of children’s …

Max Hrenda

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December 4th, 2014 9:49 pm by Max Hrenda

CDAC lead designer Jen Jessup, left, standing, asks a focus group for their input on a design for a park that will be built behind the new Jonesborough Senior Center at 307 E. Main St. (Max Hrenda/Johnson City Press)

After the community was invited to offer their input toward the construction of a new public park inside the town of Jonesborough, the discussion turned to who should — and should not — be encouraged to use it.

On Thursday night during a community brainstorming session held at the Jonesborough Visitors Center, community members expressed mixed feelings on whether or not to encourage children to use the park, and whether or not it should be oriented toward senior citizens.

The meeting was conducted as part of the joint venture between town government and Virginia Tech University’s Community Design Assistance Center, which creates and customizes designs for landscaping projects for communities and organizations. During a meeting of the town’s board of mayor and aldermen on Nov. 10, Town Administrator Bob Browning said CDAC had provided more than $18,000 worth of grants to pay for the project, while the town was responsible for more than $12,000 in matching funds, which included labor and implementation costs.

The proposed park would be built in the area behind the town’s new senior center, located at 307 E. Main St., in the area that is occupied by the town garage. According to Browning, who opened Thursday’s meeting, although the town is in the process of acquiring property on which to house the garage, it hoped to leave more than an empty space.

“We also want to plan for what happens when we leave that space,” Browning said. “We feel like we owe it to the neighborhood and to the new senior center to develop a really nice park area, or something that would be an asset to that community out there. This is an opportunity for people to give us their ideas.”

Around 20 people attended Thursday night’s meeting and, after an introduction from CDAC staff, the assemblage split into two smaller groups to engage in a brainstorming session. Before those groups were formed, however, some at the meeting expressed concern over whether or not the park would be geared toward senior citizens.

“The way I read the paper, and the way I’ve been led to understand it, this wouldn’t be for children; it would be seniors only,” said Stacy Rash.

CDAC lead designer Jen Jessup addressed Rash’s concern during the presentation, saying the purpose of Thursday’s meeting was to hear multiple points-of-view.

“It can be geared toward seniors,” Jessup said. “If this is a concern, this is a concern we’d like to hear today. We want to leave it open for everything, and then we can reel ourselves in … based on your feedback.”

Once the smaller focus groups had formed, however, the discussion over the level of children’s involvement in the park continued. The group facilitated by Jessup appeared to be more open to including children in the park’s plan by offering suggestions such as hands-on gardening with children or focusing on grandparents spending time with grandchildren. Members of the second group, which was moderated by CDAC Director Elizabeth Gilboy, expressed more vocal opposition to the inclusion of children in the park’s plans.

“Our group was more oriented toward it being a senior park,” Gilboy said.

The discussion was strong enough that, at one point during the brainstorming session, one member of the Gilboy’s group collected their belongings and left. Although there were several strong feelings and opinions expressed during Thursday’s meeting, Gilboy said she and her staff would consider all of those opinions in creating their design.

“We’ll bring everything back and look at it,” Gilboy said. “What we usually try to do is come up with two options that are pretty different, then get feedback from people on the final concept.”

Jessup added she was confident she would be able to use the input gathered from the meeting to create a park everyone could enjoy, regardless of their opinions on the degree of children’s involvement.

“Personally, as a designer, I see it as an opportunity to do something great that they both will love,” Jessup said. “We’ll take this information and start brainstorming as a team as far as how it can work. There’s an opportunity for us to make it work.”

At the meeting’s conclusion, Jessup said the CDAC team would return to Jonesborough in January to submit their designs to the public.

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