It’s taken a while, but the Town of Benson has finally secured funding to help begin an upgrade and improvement project at the Lee Street Park Complex and Dr. PK. Vyas Community Park.
State officials announced last week the Johnston County community has been awarded $366,850 in the form of a North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund Authority grant.
“This is something we have been working toward for a long time,” Benson Parks and Recreation Director Matt Smith said. “We are so thankful for everyone that helped make this happen. This is a milestone for Benson and its green spaces. However, now the work must continue and we’re excited to begin the steps in making this dream come true.”
Friday’s announcement marked a successful conclusion to a grant-seeking effort which took three years to successfully land. Mr. Smith said the town began the extensive process in 2016.
“In 2016, 2017 we applied and didn’t get it,” he said. “Last year I thought we had a really good chance, but we didn’t quite make the cut. This year we made the cut. From what I understand we were one of the first ones to get funded when they announced it.”
The latest grant is the second the town has received as part of the PARTF program. In 2009 the town was granted the funds to begin construction on what was the first of two parks that will eventually make up the Lee Street Complex.
“That was to do the current work at P.K. Vyas, which is the ballfields, the playground and the walking track, all the work that has happened there since then,” he said. “We closed it out in 2012 and we kept working toward raising funds and decided to apply again in 2016.”
The grant will fund a large-scale upgrade and improvement to the existing facility located near the old elementary school and just a block down Lee Street from the Benson Fire Department.
The project includes land acquisition across Elm Street from Vyas Community Park where football/soccer fields will eventually be relocated. The acquisition of the property is a combination of a donation by the Parker family of approximately half the property with the purchase of the remainder by the town.
In addition to the relocation of the football/soccer fields, the project calls for a .30 mile addition to the current .45 mile walking track.
“The addition of the Parker Complex is the new area where the football/soccer fields are going to go with some open space,” Mr. Smith said. “The extension of the walking track is going to be around there, so it’s going to be quite an involved process.”
One of the key elements of the project is the construction of a field house which will serve as the centerpiece for the newly-upgraded facility.
According to Mr. Smith, plans call for a two-story building with several uses besides keeping score and selling concessions. Plans call for a special indoor play area for children who are not participating in an event.
“If mom or dad wants to get them out of the heat or the cold, there’s a place to take them,” Mr. Smith said. “When big brother is playing, little brother or little sister can be inside where it’s out of the elements.”
The town hopes to use the new field house to not only benefit the local teams, also to increase the number of teams in tournaments. Which in turn, town officials hope to bring a higher economic impact to the town.
“We host tournaments now,” Mr. Smith said. “We’ll probably be able to double the size of the tournaments we’re having. That means people coming into Benson for two- and three-day tournaments on the weekend. We hope to keep people coming into town, buying lunch and dinner, staying at our hotels, shopping at the local shops and I think it’s going to be huge.”
Construction of two new baseball/softball fields will take place in addition to the two fields already in place. The fields will form a cloverleaf pattern around the field house where all games can be simultaneously scored and observed.
“That’s going to be the centerpiece of everything,” Mr. Smith said. “That’s the main focus right now.”
Other elements addressed in the approximately $733,000 project includes a Tot Lot playground for 1- to 5-year-olds as well as new fencing around the park, fencing for the fields themselves, additional picnic tables and field grading as part of a three-year timeline for completion.
“We completed our 2009 grant well inside the three-year window,” Mr. Smith said. “That’s one of the reasons why we got the grant this time, because we had good grant management the last time, so I’m hoping to do the same this time.”
While the grant requires the project be completed within the three years and while Mr. Smith hopes to see it completed ahead of schedule, he offers a caveat.
“Yes, three years is our timeline and I would love to see it done quicker than that, I think everybody would,” he said. “But I think what everybody needs to understand is it’s not an overnight process.”
If the town manages to complete the project under budget as it did with the initial grant in 2009, Mr. Smith said there could be additional amenities added based on the desires of the town administration and the residents themselves.
“That’s something I won’t decide myself,” he said. “It has to be a recreation advisory board decision, a town board decision, a public decision, what the public wants. They’re the ones who fill out the surveys and come to the information meetings. I think it’s a big deal the town wants to have that kind of ownership.”
Benson was one of just 27 communities to be awarded a portion of the $6.7 million matching funds grants allocated this year to improve the quality of life and encourage residents and visitors to get outdoors.
Matching funds were raised from a combination of public and private sources, according to Benson Mayor Jerry Medlin.
“We want to thank the matching fund participants Dale Parker, South Johnston Optimist Club, First Citizens Bank, United Community Bank, Dr. P.K. Vyas, Berry Global, the Town of Benson and many others that have pushed to get this project completed,” he said.