Rose Park closer to acceptance

At 7 a.m., the walk begins.

Daylight is just emerging from dawn, but members of the Edgehill/Rose Park Walking Club are already out and ready for a few laps around the Rose Park outdoor track.

The walkers aren’t the only ones who make it to the park this early. On another day, the Belmont women’s soccer team has offseason practice in long-sleeved shirts to combat an unusually cool April morning.

A renovated E.S. Rose Park is up and running.

One year after the facility reopened, it’s used on a daily basis by several middle and high school organizations as well as Belmont, the walkers and others in the neighborhood. The park has a track and fields for baseball, softball and soccer, and it is as full as it has ever been.

Belmont has better established itself as a partner with the neighborhood, whether with the sports complex or in other projects, said Joyce Searcy, director of community relations at Belmont.

“To me, it’s been a remarkable change. I really do think people have ownership of the park,” she said. “Everyone has something to give, not just Belmont.”

That partnership between the university and the Edgehill community happened after years of conflict between the two groups about the park’s use. While Belmont and Metro Nashville formally agreed to let Belmont renovate and lease the public park in 2007, a series of lawsuits and community protests kept the project from going forward until 2010.

When the park opened in April 2011, Belmont President Bob Fisher acknowledged that the promises made to the Edgehill community during the lengthy process would be honored.

Brenda Morrow, director of the Edgehill Family Resource Center, said while some progress has been made and those promises are being kept to a certain extent, more can still be done to truly honor them.

In many cases, the interactions between both communities have come from students with an idea coming to Edgehill residents. The walking club was started by a fourth-year Belmont pharmacy student who worked with Morrow and multiple other Edgehill groups to get the group off the ground. Other student-resident programs have been also created, including a program that helps distribute medicine to those in the community who need it.

Both Searcy and Morrow said they were pleased with how such unexpected partnerships developed.

“When residents and students get together for strategic planning, it’s amazing,” Morrow said.

On the other hand, Morrow said the university should work further to help Edgehill with other needs in the community, especially at the Easley Community Center adjacent to the park. Morrow said the center has a very big need for computers and classes for college readiness and entrepreneurship that residents requested several years ago that she believes Belmont could provide. Under the lease between Belmont and Metro Nashville, the university gives $40,000 to Metro Parks annually.

While Morrow said Belmont has done good things in their partnership with Edgehill, she believes even more could be done if the university proper would further embed itself within the neighborhood and community center.

“We could be a model community, a model partnership between a community and school,” Morrow said. “We’ve got the stuff to do it, so let’s do it.”

While the park has affected both Belmont and Edgehill, it has also provided a new home for a number of teams in both communities.

The transition has been a unifier for Belmont athletics by moving the baseball, softball, soccer and track and field teams to one location for the first time in years, said associate athletic director Steve Barrick.

“Just having all our student-athletes at our same sites … I think it’s been beneficial to our program. There’s a lot of energy around the park with all the student-athletes and fans,” he said.

Rose Park Magnet School, Hume-Fogg High School and several other local sports organizations have teams that also call the sports complex home.

This means the park is in constant use, whether with practices in the afternoon or games in the evening. Getting everyone on the field can be a challenge for all parties, but Barrick said every institution communicates with Metro Nashville Parks and Recreation and with each other to use the field economically and to honor the terms of Belmont’s lease with the city, which gives priority scheduling to teams who used the park before its renovation.

Belmont student-athletes have also interacted with Edgehill students at local events the athletics department has helped to plan and develop.

“The more we can do, the better,” Barrick said. “It’s not about athletics. It’s for the community.”

Morrow said the community could use more events that teach Edgehill students how to play or even have mini-leagues set up where they could play consistently.

“We’re getting some use out of it,” she said. “But if the kids aren’t being taught how to use it, it’s not doing anything.”

Since the teams moved to the public park a year ago, the athletics department has dealt with some issues, including theft and vandalism. Two cars belonging to softball players were broken into in Feburary, and press box glass at the baseball field was also broken this season.

“That could happen wherever we were,” Barrick said. “It’s not good, but it’s isolated.”

While Belmont security officers are on site at Rose Park during practices and games, Barrick said student-athletes have also been told to take better precautions to keep their belongings secure while they are on the field.

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