WESLEY CHAPEL – After several years of planning and anticipation, Wesley Chapel’s future Dogwood Park is officially ready for construction.
Town officials and parks and recreation enthusiasts broke ground on Monday, July 15, at the park site on 22.6 acres at the corner of Weddington and Lester Davis roads. Morlando Construction LLC – the company that will build the park’s first phase for $602,162 – is expected to begin work at the site within the next couple of weeks.
The groundbreaking comes as a huge milestone to park activists like Marnie Holland, who serves as a member of the nonprofit Wesley Chapel Friends of Parks and Recreation. Holland also has been responsible for coordinating the “highly successful” volunteer days that have drawn Wesley Chapel residents of all ages.
Volunteers have worked for more than a year – typically at events held twice a month – to clear brush, build trails and fences, dig trenches and more. When the original bids for park construction came in significantly over budget late last year, the town scheduled additional volunteer days – something that cut construction costs significantly and made this week’s groundbreaking possible.
“Really, it’s been a team effort,” Holland said. “…I think what it’s sparked is a lot of people have been spreading the word, so that in itself has been snowballing.”
As word of the volunteer days spread within the community, Scout troops, civic organizations and other groups got involved. Boy Scouts built a biking trail on the property, and a local Girl Scout troop completed work on an outdoor patio and sitting area last week.
“We’ve had everybody from little children to 70-year-old grannies out here” on volunteer days, said John Lepke, chairman of the Wesley Chapel Parks and Rec Committee.
The park’s first phase will include paved and unpaved walking trails, boardwalks around the park’s pond, a fishing pier, temporary restrooms, an amphitheater built to seat about 200 and a parking area.
Construction likely won’t end until early spring 2014, but Holland and Wesley Chapel Councilmember Elaine Rosoff said organizers are already discussing special events they’d like to host at the park. They mentioned a Wesley Chapel’s Got Talent show, band concerts and a Shakespeare in the Park program as events the town could host at the amphitheater. Fishing tournaments at the catch-and-release pond also are a possibility, they said.
“We’re (a town of) almost 8,000 people,” Rosoff said. “… It’s a wonderful place for people of different communities to meet, but on a totally level playing field.”
Now that the groundbreaking event is over and the construction team hired, the biggest area of uncertainty concerns an approximately 4,000-square-foot, circa-1973 house located on park property. Lepke said residents and park activists want to use the house as a community center, featuring a lending library, art classes, nature programs for children, programs for senior citizens and more.
But renovating the house and bringing it up to code could cost $500,000 or more.
That’s why Wesley Chapel Friends of Parks and Recreation and the newly formed Wesley Chapel Optimist Club are trying to raise funds to cover the renovation. Wesley Chapel councilmembers agreed to hold off on demolishing the house for now, but said earlier this month they’d like to see some progress on raising the funds by October.
“It’s such a beautiful house,” Lepke said. “There are so many opportunities with it. It would be a shame to see it torn down.”