Fort Kid Planning Session Reveals Rifts, Input Solicited

Site Plans, Fort Kid Planning Session, Knoxville Museum of Art, March 2020

The first of the planned community input sessions regarding the design of the new version of Fort Kid was held at the Knoxville Museum of Art before what might come to pass as a large group in the current atmosphere. Charles Lomax, Community Empowerment Director for the City of Knoxville, led the meeting and started by noting the serious atmosphere in the world, the country, and the City as we begin to feel the impact of the COVID-19 virus. It was a day that included the announcement of suspension of in-person classes at the University of Tennessee and an early start for spring break at Knox County Schools. Lomax also noted that he played at Fort Kid as a child, so it has some special meaning to him.

Following that cue, David Butler, Executive Director of the Knoxville Museum of Art, welcomed the crowd and said the Museum is happy to be a neighbor to the small park and that it is, “nice at this moment to think of kids playing in the sunshine.” Thanks were given to the Boyd family and their donation to the project, as well as Beth Waters who shepherded the original project in 1991. She and her husband John sat at a table with former mayor Victor Ashe, and all would have more to say after the presentation.

Charles Lomax, Community Empowerment Director, Fort Kid Planning Session, Knoxville Museum of Art, March 2020

The issues driving the current project were detailed, including a failing retaining wall comprised of rotten timbers. The soil is inadequate, being primarily red clay, which expands and contracts, causing problems for the wall as well as stressing the playground equipment. There is also a KUB easement running under the wall over which a new wall cannot, by current codes, be built.

The goals of both the gathering last night and the surveys being collected were given as “capturing the spirit of Fort Kid,” in the new design. As a part of that effort, the City is collecting memories of the park and is particularly interested in favorite uses of the various parts of the equipment. They also want the new construction to focus on “inclusive play,” and it must meet current guidelines for playgrounds.

Vision Boards, Fort Kid Planning Session, Knoxville Museum of Art, March 2020

Vision Boards, Fort Kid Planning Session, Knoxville Museum of Art, March 2020

The immediate timeline calls for holding a Fort Kid Birthday event on April 4, closing the park and beginning dismantling on April 6, and beginning slope work on April 20 with a target completion date of June 30 for the slope work. Survey collection will end March 31, and another public meeting will follow this summer. Design is expected to be complete by this fall, and construction complete for a Spring 2021 re-opening.

Other details discussed included the fact that the eight shade trees currently on the site will be preserved and that the fence around the structure is up for discussion as to its inclusion in the new configuration. The new base area for the structure will be about 6,000 square feet and will be more linear and less square-shaped. An art installation on the slope connecting the playground to the museum is also planned.

Vision Boards, Fort Kid Planning Session, Knoxville Museum of Art, March 2020

Vision Boards, Fort Kid Planning Session, Knoxville Museum of Art, March 2020

Vision Boards, Fort Kid Planning Session, Knoxville Museum of Art, March 2020

At the end of the brief presentation, as the crowd was about to be dismissed to the “vision boards,” an audience member asked if we could ask questions and was told that questions could be asked at the boards of those who had made presentations. The person replied that shouldn’t questions be asked as a group so everyone could hear what was asked and the answers given?

So began a brief exchange between Mrs. Waters who spoke up and, with support from her husband, pointed out that the 6,000 square feet is much smaller than the current layout, running about a quarter to a third of the current space. They asked if another, larger, location on the World’s Fair Park could be considered. They were told that it would not be considered, though about 1,000 square feet of the parking lot could possibly be converted to park space.

Victor Ashe said, “You can’t cut short the chance to ask questions. We are not having a public meeting.” And so the group portion of the meeting ended.

Fort Kid Planning Session, Knoxville Museum of Art, March 2020

Fort Kid, Knoxville, January 2013

I spoke with Beth and John Waters afterward and she said she is “unhappy. If the design is not in place, why close it to destroy it?” “Three weeks from now we close it.” John added, “This is a demolition,” noting that the city does not use that word. He says the site is currently 1.79 acres according to the city’s website (this is correct) and that it would become one tenth of that size. Beth noted that she was at the playground recently when Mayor Kincannon toured and she counted fifty children playing in the park. John added that the original report from engineering only required rebuilding the retaining wall.

I spoke to Chip Barry, Deputy Chief of Operations for the City of Knoxville, who said it is necessary for the park to be smaller due to the addition of the required slope, which takes up space from the former playground. As to the timing, he said that a delay on this end of the schedule would precipitate a delay of the opening date next year.

You’ll find the city’s Fort Kid Page here. A link is included there to the survey.


  1. F i rst the City of Knoxville proposed getting rid of the park. Now the City has compromised, and intends to only get rid of ninety percent of the park.


    And Knoxville ‘only has a plan for the removal of the park structures and elements. No plan for the replacement of the scant ten percent of the former elements.


    Knoxville City officials then topped this off by refusing to allow the public to engage “the planning team” with questions and concerns. Rather, the City prefered to send each concerned citizen to a corner to speak to a wall. Most considerate and accomodating of the new Mayor!


    Sounds like someone is not playing nice. Like a bully is threatening to pick up their toys and go home if she cannot have her way. The game being played seams to be about continued encroachment and repurposing city center park lands.


    Cheaters never prosper. Keep your eye on the ball Knoxville Citizens. Looks as if one team wants to play dodge ball.

  2. Kudos to the City for proposing a compromise. Kudos to the private donors. This is a win-win.

    The options were: (a) leave the rotting retaining wall in place and do nothing until it collapsed and spilled into the play area, possible injuring or killing a kid, (b) demolishing the play area, replacing the retaining wall with a slope thereby creating a greenspace, or (c) seeking a compromise where the retaining wall issue was resolved and a new play area was established. Thankfully, the latter option has come to fruition.

    All I have read and seen from the Fort Kids community are tightened lips, frowny faces, and crossed arms because they can’t have the status quo. Instead of being childish, they need to be adult about it. I’m sure they would be the first to sue if their child was buried under the dirt of a failed retaining wall or stepped on an exposed nail in this aging playground.

    So what if the footprint is a little smaller? The kids don’t care. And in reality, they are the ones who should be making the design decisions. Not some petulant adults who initiated and worked or the project or played on it years ago.

    How much better to have a new playground that will meet ADA and safety requirements so that it is open to ALL children and not just a lucky few.

    Grow up! Adult! Do what’s best for the children and put away your petty ways!

  3. What is “inclusive play?”

    I’ve never heard that phrase before.

    • This could include structures accessible for children with disabilities

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Here’s something I found online that I think gets at it: With inclusive playgrounds, the objective is to include everyone. They are thoughtfully designed to provide a safe place where children of all abilities can play together, and are developmentally appropriate for children with and without disabilities. … They integrate all the senses and encourages social play.Nov 22, 2016

  4. Responses in the survey were limited at 70 characters. If I’d had room to actually speak my mind in response to their query, “What do you like most about Fort Kid?,” I’d have said –

    I love the history of it. I love the geography of it. My child has Asperger’s and ADHD, and having an outdoor, inclusive playspace means he can gather with other friends on good socializing days, and on days when he struggles, I can still take him somewhere familiar, inspiring, and accessible. If the City chooses to reduce the Fort Kid at area to the proposed 1/10th of its current size, or demolished it and does not rebuild, there are THOUSANDS of families who will lose a beautiful part of Knoxville and also interest in voting anyone on this board back into office in the next election cycle. Do proceed thoughtfully.

  5. Maybe I’m a dummy but I don’t get why there’s a question about what to do here.

    Rotting timbers on a retaining wall? Replace the timbers.

    Playground in disrepair? Repair the playground. Maybe have a plan in place to prevent it from falling into disrepair again…

    Maybe I’m looking at it too simply, but it looks like problem -> solution to me.

    • KUB has a pipe behind this retaining wall. Because regulations have changed over the years, when the wall comes down it cannot go back up. That’s why there will need to be a slope rather than another wall.

      • What’s the deal with the pipe? There are KUB pipes virtually everywhere in this city; what’s special about this one?
        If it’s about access to the pipe, what about a concrete retaining wall with access hatches?

    • Yeah, I’m not following it either. It looks like the situation mandates a major revamp of the site due to the changes in the past 20 years in the area for the playground, requirements, etc. I’m not sure what all the anger/angst is about given those facts and it looks like the city is working as best they can to update the playground given the constraints they have to work with.

  6. Marti Davis says

    About 15 years ago the city/county parkland was surveyed in a commissioned study. As a reporter for the KNS I compared it to other metro areas in the U.S. and we came out near the bottom. We’ve improved some but not all that much. We need to do everything we can to expand parkland, playgrounds and greenways. My personal soapbox: Knox County has no municipal swimming facilities. Those in the city are very limited and offer few, if any, swim lessons. Pretty much every community around us has a public pool and some have several. It’s really a shame that busloads of kids from Knox County must go to Alcoa or Oak Ridge for the opportunity to swim. Not everyone can join a private club. On the upside: swimming at Mead’s Quarry is now open and free and quite popular in summer months. Parking is a problem.

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