The $15.5 million renovation of Jennie Dean Park in Green Valley is nearly complete, poised to open to the public in the middle of next month.
A lengthy design and construction process has resulted in a major reworking of the seven-decade-old park, located along Four Mile Run, across from Shirlington.
The renovations included adding more than two acres, updating and moving the playground, rebuilding the restrooms, renovating the picnic shelter, relocating and modernizing the baseball fields, and commissioning a site specific work of public art.
Last week, ARLnow got an exclusive tour of the park, which is in the midst of getting final landscaping and aesthetic touches.
The new, re-designed playground is now closer to S. Four Mile Run Drive to make it more “visible and accessible” to the community. It’s ADA accessible with age separated areas and state-of-the-art safety features, like poured-in-place rubber. The look is “heavily inspired by the industrial character of the area,” says landscape architect and county project manager Jeremy Smith, with lots of exposed wood and bolts.
The new all-gender restrooms, now a county-wide ordinance for all county facilities, have also been rebuilt and relocated closer to the front of the park due to safety reasons. The bathrooms are designed to be open year-round and will be open from sunrise to the park closes at 11 p.m.
The two baseball diamonds, one for youth leagues and the other for adult softball, are now moved further away from Four Mile Run. Previously, the diamonds were in the floodplain, so the move is to help mitigate flooding and over saturation. The diamonds are also now equipped with more efficient LED lights that will “focus the light on the fields and not the neighborhoods,” Smith tells ARLnow. First priority for field use are for scheduled and permitted activities.
If the fields are not scheduled, they are available for drop-in and free use.
The two fields have also been renamed after long-time community activists. Ernest Johnson was the leader of one of Arlington’s first African American Cub Scout Packs while Robert Winkler was a long-time employee of the county’s parks and recreations department. He was also a youth coach who helped provide financial support to local athletes.
To celebrate the park’s long history of baseball, the diamonds will display pennants of historic Green Valley teams that played on the fields in the mid-20th century. The pennants were being designed in collaboration with the Green Valley Civic Association but, as of last week, had not yet been installed.
Near the baseball diamonds is a history walk, with plaques embedded in the ground displaying some of the significant moments in the park’s and Green Valley’s history.
There’s also new public art. Wheelhouse, a green stainless steel multi-sectioned pavilion, “explores the industrial history of the Jennie Dean Park site through the lens of the great American pastime — baseball,” according the county website.
The design is supposed to look like a mill that once stood in this location in the early 18th century, as well as the heart of a homeplate’s strike zone that is often called a batter’s wheelhouse. It was designed by artist Mark Reigelman with community input and was budgeted at $200,000.
The renovated park also sports a common use grassy area, a new lookout protruding over Four Mile Run, renovated basketball and tennis courts — though, disappointing some, no pickleball — and a picnic pavilion with a sustainable, green roof.
Still to be added to the park are trees, historical signage, some landscaping, and other small, aesthetic features.
In 2017 and 2018, there were a number of fierce debates over the park’s design. The County Board approved the contract for the park’s construction in late 2019 and work began in early 2020. But it wasn’t without some bumps, notably continuing discussion about the wishes of the community and the pandemic delaying some permitting.
Smith says the original plan was to finish the park in late 2021, but permitting was held up in the early part of the pandemic, pushing the opening back a few months.
The current plan is to have a grand opening with county officials, the Green Valley Civic Association, and the public sometime mid- to late May. It’s expected the park will open to the public around that time, if not slightly before.
The park is named after Jennie Serepta Dean, a formerly enslaved woman who opened the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth in the late 19th century.
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