By KIT SLACK — On the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 26, down at Magruder Park, about 100 kids ages 4 to 14 took advantage of a break in the rain to get in a short soccer practice before another thunderstorm broke and turned the grass into marsh.
Meanwhile, inside the park’s concrete bunker-style rec center, two dozen Hyattsville residents, including three members of the city council, talked together about how they used the park, and how they would like to use it in the future. Though the small windows darkened rapidly as the storm rolled in, and the planned walking tour got rained out, the conversation stayed bright and hopeful.
The Neighborhood Design Center (NDC), a nonprofit with offices in Hyattsville’s Pyramid Atlantic building, was hosting the fourth in a series of meetings asking Hyattsville park users to “reimagine” Magruder Park. More than 200 residents have now given feedback to the NDC through surveys or focus groups, according to Allie O’Neill, the Prince Georges County program manager for the NDC.
At that Wednesday’s meeting, sticky-note sized pictures of potential uses covered one wall. Images ranged from bird-watching, to a meditation labyrinth, to disc golf, to outdoor circuit training, to giant chess pieces. Participants could vote “yay” or “nay” with stickers. Pictures of fountains and splash pads quickly became studded with stickers, while the image of biodegradable art puzzled some. Participants added their own ideas to the wall, including a beer garden, a climbing wall, a zip line and a merry-go-round. In small groups, participants considered about 20 elements of the existing park, from the water fountain to the nature trail boardwalk, and talked about whether they’d like to see them stay, or how they’d like to see them change. Each participant also made a map of a recent trip to the park, marking stops they made — saying goodbye to a kid, pausing in the forest, waiting for a dog — and obstacles they encountered: mud, broken glass.
Some participants wanted to have the name of the park changed, especially once they’d seen a quote taken from a column in the February edition of the Hyattsville Life & Times. The quote was blown up on a poster and put on the wall above the station where participants could grab free pizza. It described the racist terms of the donation of the parkland to the public. Both William Pinkney Magruder, who donated most of the park in 1927, and Hillary and Annie Willis, who expanded the park in 1944, donated the land for “Caucasian inhabitants only,” a restriction which courts rendered unenforceable a few years later. City Councilmember Joseph Solomon, who participated in the meeting, believes the name should be changed; his first idea was Free Hope Park. According to Solomon, the Hyattsville Preservation Association recently informed the council that it intends to make a formal proposal for the renaming of the park. Other name suggestions have been circulating on Hyattsville listservs and on the city-sponsored online forum, Speak Up, HVL.
The city first solicited ideas for park redesign in 2016 through Speak Up, HVL. Based in part on the online conversation that unfolded, Mayor Candace Hollingsworth introduced a proposal to the city council in January 2017 “to develop a conceptual design for the reimagining of Magruder Park,” mentioning NDC as a proposed contractor. In October 2017, Hyattsville put out a request for a proposal for a contractor to conduct community outreach and “develop a design concept” for the park. In February 2018, according to Public Information Officer Jake Rollow, city staff selected the NDC to do the work. O’Neill says the NDC’s bid was submitted in collaboration with Bradley Site Design, landscape architects, and the Rivera Group, which specializes in outreach to the Latino community.
Not all city council members agree that this is the right time to develop a comprehensive redesign plan for the park. Solomon, who is among three councilmembers who expressed concerns about the process at the council meeting in January of 2017, says that while he agrees that “the current facility is not sufficient,” and wants to hear resident input, he fears that the process could generate “false hope.” Given the city’s other construction projects, he worries that the city does not have the operational capacity, funds and “relationship capacity with all of the partners that we would need” to finish the work following a redesign. He also expressed concerns about proceeding with a redesign before the outcome of the Magruder Pointe development project is known.
The NDC conducted a similar series of meetings focused on the redesign of Hyatt Park in the spring of 2018, culminating in the presentation of a design to the city council. According to Rollow, the city hopes to complete the Hyatt Park renovation in 2019.
As for Magruder Park, O’Neill said that the NDC is still analyzing the data it has collected. According to O’Neill, NDC observers have found that residents most commonly use Magruder Park to spend time with family. O’Neill also said that users are representative of Hyattsville’s overall demographics, with one exception: not many teens use the park, absent targeted programming. According to O’Neill, the NDC is reaching out to teens and exploring ways to change that.
At the meeting, O’Neill said that next steps for the Magruder Park project would include assembling a “Champions of the Park” volunteer working group to do a walking tour and discuss design options. The NDC hopes to present two alternative proposals for redesign this October and aims to finalize a design in November.
Rollow said that the city council “has not yet discussed funding physical changes to the park.”
The original Speak Up, HVL conversation explored seeking grants from the state of Maryland which are earmarked for playground and recreational facility upgrades.