After remaining closed and contaminated for nearly a decade, Montague Park is on schedule to re-open in 2012 as the first of three new city-owned full-sized rugby fields located on the former landfill site.
With limited to no city funds, a citizen-lead team of interested and diverse businessmen have been working on their own to imagine and initiate the creation of a new public park.
The 47 acre park has sat empty, off-limits, uncapped and unused for seven years until Steve Lofty approached the city with an idea in 2009.
In his one hand Lofty had the need and desire to find a home field for the Chattanooga Rugby team, who have been without a permanent home since 1978. In the other hand he had his family's construction and excavation business.
"He made an offer to the mayor to try to assist in a voluntary way to get something started at Montague Park and turn it into rugby fields for his team," Larry Zehnder, city of Chattanooga director of parks and recreation, said.
The city of Chattanooga operated Montague Park as a softball complex until 2003. The park was ordered closed by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation after testing showed the site may have been improperly capped in the 1960's and no longer met current standards.
According to a press release issued by the city of Chattanooga in March of that year, guidelines indicated the site should have been capped with 36 inches of soil, two feet compacted and 1 foot to support vegetation. Borings taken at the time indicated the soil depth was inconsistent throughout the park, and in a few places the cap was nonexistent, creating the "continued presence of methane gas."
Over the past year Lofty said his company voluntarily hauled at least 800 truck loads of clay cap soil and are only 20 loads away from completely re-capping the former landfill. Lofty said through his construction firm he routinely looks for jobs to bid on where the excavated soil is the same that is needed in Montague Park.
That is a process that hasn't happened easily or quickly. Loads came in small increments, sometimes two, sometimes 10 truckloads at a time depending on what was available in any given month.
City crews will dump 6 inches of top soil over the next month onto the newly created field adjacent to the acres being capped. The play field will be irrigated and sodded this fall for use next year.
Lofty anticipates playing rugby on the center field next fall and by 2013 all three fields will be complete. He said he hopes area soccer and ultimate frisbee players utilize the fields for tournaments and practice as well. Community programs that will continue the rugby team's ongoing service projects and youth camps will also find a new home, Lofty said.
A project of this magnitude has been too costly for the Mayor's office to take on, "or it would have been done years ago," Zenhder said.
"This project has been able to move forward because of Mr. Lofty's ability to provide the cap material and the labor to move it into place," Mayor Ron Littlefield said.
Mayor Littlefield said the site will be fully converted before he leaves office.
World-class outdoor sculpture park and museum coming
"Fully converted" includes completing plans for a passive park to be located alongside the recreation fields. The creation of an outdoor sculpture park and museum will encompass several acres to the west of the fields.
Internationally renowned sculptor and Chattanooga resident John Henry has been on the forefront of this vision. The new outdoor museum will "seriously and significantly help put Chattanooga on the real map of arts destinations," Henry said.
In 2003, Henry curated and founded the Outdoor Museum of Art at Chattanooga State Community College, which now has a collection of some forty works of student and faculty artists as well as local, regional, and international sculptors.
Henry, who serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts and was chairman of the Board of the International Sculpture Centers, said he has friends all over the world who will loan their sculptures to the park to help get it started.
The artist's large-scale works of arts are displayed around the world and created in Chattanooga on his eleven acre Main Street warehouse and studio adjacent to the park. He will be donating the use of his crane for all of the new museum's installations during the beginning phase and first exhibitions, he said.
“It's all doable. We just have to find the people who are willing to be a part of it,” he said.
The new museum and park will be an excellent compliment to the collection at the Hunter Museum, and curriculum has already been developed to bring a new arts management class to the area, according to Henry.
"I envision partnerships to create a curriculum for parks and and gardens management, There is hardly anything like that anywhere. There is really no place where you can go to school and learn to become a director and curator of a sculpture park," Henry said.
Littlefield said the entire project will "breathe new life" into the park in ways that no one will be expecting.