The Town of Benson is hoping to fund a $1.5 million expansion of its community park with the aid of state grant money.
Benson commissioners gave Town Manager Matt Zapp the green light to send in the town’s 2016 Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) application, which aims to expand on the previous park improvements by more than half with a maximum funding request of $500,000.
The transformation of Benson’s old middle school athletic fields along South Elm Street began in 2009 when a plan was approved to shape the unadorned acreage into a park and install several amenities.
Dr. P.K. Vyas, owner of Benson’s Eastern Carolina Medical Center, donated $100,000 to be used on the project for the next decade. The rejuvenated park officially opened in May 2012 following a dedication ceremony, dubbing the location the “Dr. P.K. Vyas Community Park.”
In addition to Dr. Vyas’ contributions, the improvements were also funded through the PARTF grant, which is distributed by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Benson’s new park was created for approximately $400,000 — the town was responsible for half that amount.
The money went toward new picnic shelters, a playground, resurfacing the existing basketball courts, updated fencing, wheelchair accessibility and new lighting for the fields.
“This space was just sitting here and this area of town didn’t have anything like this, so we jumped at the opportunity to turn it into a nice park,” Benson Parks and Recreation Director Matt Smith told The Daily Record in 2012.
At the time, Benson was among one of 600 towns in the state that received some kind of PARTF funding — there were more than 1,000 applications for the grant in 2009.
Million Dollar Expansion
Today, town officials are hoping to recreate the past success with the grant program.
Topping the new list of improvements is the acquisition of an adjacent parcel of land. Currently the park covers approximately 9.6 acres, the combination of the nearby parcel would bump that up to roughly 16 acres.
In addition, new perimeter fencing, two new ball fields (and associated field house), asphalt and drainage improvements to the parking area and a multi-purpose field with lights are also included in the plan.
Some of the more drastic changes include removing a section of South Elm Street between Brocklyn and Mann streets for additional field space. “The town wants to enhance their presently-used facilities, and take advantage of the location of Dr. P.K. Vyas Park, which benefits a larger portion of the community including adjacent low-income housing developments,” the town’s PARTF grant application reads.
“This funding will give children and families additional opportunities for positive engagement in the community … . The continued development of this park plans to group several fields and activities together in one location, as requested during the multiple community engagement meetings. Parents and grandparents will be able to bring children out to one site instead of trekking them to several different sites across town.”
Drawings also show the demolition of a large portion of the old middle school building adjacent to the Benson Fire Department deemed beyond repair to be included in future park plans. However, building demolition is not included in this year’s PARTF application.
New windows for the old middle school gymnasium (which is still in use) are contained within the 2016 plan, as well as locker room renovations and the installation of a new HVAC and duct system.
According to a project breakdown, the total project cost will be approximately $1.15 million.
The PARTF grant, should Benson be award the funds, would cover $500,000 of the total, with the town picking up the remaining $650,750. Courtesy The Daily Record