After working for nearly two months to redesign the historic decommissioned 3.75 million-gallon reservoir downtown, which has been out of commission for about 20 years, two student groups — one at Randolph College and one at Sweet Briar College — got a chance to present their new designs to judges, faculty and members of the city at the Virginian Hotel Ballroom Thursday night.
Hollie Jennings, the city’s diversity, equity and inclusion strategist, said the presentations were fantastic.
“They far exceeded any type of expectations I had,” Jennings said. “The judges really struggled over making their final scores, it was a really tough call between the two teams.”
Lynchburg City Manager Wynter Benda said he was blown away by both groups’ presentations and design proposals.
“To work hard, in their already busy semesters, to come out and present on an evening, I’m just very proud,” Benda said.
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There were three students in the Sweet Briar group and five students in the Randolph College group.
Randolph College’s student group was the winner of the contest, receiving a commemorative trophy to display at its school and a $500 scholarship.
However, it was announced at the ceremony that each student who participated will receive a $500 scholarship for their efforts.
Both groups submitted proposals and designs for the reservoir April 20 to judges, who were made up of engineers, city planners, finance professionals and city faculty.
Students were judged on creativity, sustainability in terms of their use of resources, the usability the design brings, how constructible the design can be, infrastructure and special cultural and historical considerations.
In 1827, a Watering Committee, chaired by John Victor, hired a Prussian engineer Albert Stein to design a water wheel pump system to pump water up 245 feet in elevation from the James River. On July 18, 1829, the reservoir and the pumps were cut on, the first publicly owned water system in Virginia and second in the country. In 1883, the original brick reservoir was replaced with the current 3.75 million gallon reservoir before taken out of service in the early 2000s due to water quality issues and deterioration of the structure. The reservoir was also home of the water bearer statue.
Both student groups had the idea of turning the space into a park.
Randolph College students envisioned a park with a large pavilion for gatherings, a shade-covered playground and a small splash pad that serves as a “patio-like” seating area for colder months.
Their focus was to create a space for family gatherings, smaller public events, food truck events and a garden.
From the entrance and throughout the park, there’s a labyrinth path.
To commemorate the reservoir’s history, the group plans to have the historic water bearer statue and a fountain featuring the Glamorgan pitcher.
In developing its plans for the space, the group explored concepts for the park from the city’s master plans along with parks around the world, reserved a table for 90 minutes on a Saturday morning in April at the Community Market and also created a survey to determine the community’s wants and needs.
The survey played a key role for the Randolph College students, as they posted it on the “Living in Lynchburg” Facebook group asking residents to rate potential features for the design — splash pad, grilling stations, community garden plots, art wall pavilion with eating and sitting area, outdoor exercise station, fountain, playground and labyrinth.
“We wanted something different, so that’s why we incorporated different elements into it,” said Hannah Cloven, a junior at Randolph College studying environmental science.
Amanda Jagdeo, a biology major at Randolph College, said it’s important to add the area of the reservoir is in a food desert — areas with limited access to affordable health foods — and heat island — urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas — which was a reason to incorporate the splash pad, the shaded playground and the community garden for people of all ages.
“I think those things are the most important aspects of why we decided to choose a park, because of all the versatile aspects you could put in it,” Jagdeo said.
When creating their design, the student group at Sweet Briar took into account three factors — preserving the site’s history while making the space contemporary and inviting for visitors and functional for nearby residents, considering both the cost of repurposing and maintenance, and integrating with the surrounding area.
The group’s design includes green spaces, a fountain and water bearer statue in the center honoring the history of the reservoir and benches near the middle on the backside of the park.
The group plans to recast the fencing along the backside, with a green stone wall, fencing and promenade intact that sits on Clay Street, an optional view of the original brickwork and depth along the far east side of the park.
An important element for the students when creating the park was honoring history. To begin their presentation, the group recognized, honored and respected the “original stewards” of the land, the Monacan Nation.
The plan of the group also was to place an enslaved peoples memorial to recognize slave labor as part of the greater scope of history.
“With having these difficult talks and the acknowledgement of so much of the history, we really want to keep it light as far as getting the community involved,” said Kaitlyn Justice, an engineering science major at Sweet Briar.
Kailey McCarthy, a history and political science major at Sweet Briar, said it was important for the group to incorporate and acknowledge the history into their design.
She said the group wanted others to learn new things and although they didn’t win the contest, the judges pointing out that they learned something new from their presentation and design is a “win in my book.”
“I think just being able to learn and wanting to learn more, is kind of what we wanted to accomplish,” McCarthy said.
Ideally, members of the community would have the opportunity to adopt a green space within the park and work in the garden.
Benda said he plans to send the presentations to the city council.
“I know it got me at least thinking about things and I can’t wait to talk to city staff to see what they thought about what was proposed,” Benda said.