By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]
Nancy Lee-Reeve didn’t intend to head up the fundraising effort for the Del Ray
Gateway project when she started asking questions about the closed-down Colasanto Pool on Commonwealth Avenue.
Lee-Reeve, a Del Ray resident since 2010 and a mother of two, was surprised at the lack of aquatic facilities in the neighborhood. Her surprise prompted her to take action.
“I always wondered why we had to drive to Old Town or go to Franconia. I’ve always walked by thinking, ‘Why did they leave it closed like that? It looks terrible.
What’s going on with it?’” Lee-Reeve said. “No one was doing anything.”
Lee-Reeve’s questions led to conversations with Del Ray community advocates like Pat Miller and Jennifer Atkins, who had also been wondering the same thing. As she dug further into the issue, she learned the city had included the pool’s possible conversion to a spray park in its 10-year capital improvement plan.
The project wasn’t docketed to proceed, however, until at least 2022. Lee-Reeve and other
members of the community saw the potential to do something sooner. They also saw the potential to collaborate by pairing the potential spray park with the long-in-the-works Nancy Dunning Memorial Garden, which would honor the late neighborhood advocate and ‘Queen of Del Ray.’
“It made more sense to come up with a cohesive concept and plan instead of trying to patch two designs together and hope and pray that it looks good,” Lee-Reeve said.
Kate Moran, Dunning’s niece, said the time was right for the family to create a permanent memorial for her, and collaborating with Lee-Reeve was a natural progression.
“When we received the naming approval and the OK to move forward, Nancy Lee had begun the push and she and some of her friends wanted to redesign the pool as a splash park,” Moran said. “It seemed to make sense that we would meet, not only with Nancy, but [with] people from the Del Ray Artisans and the Del Ray Citizens Association and the Del Ray Business Association.”
The newly merged project became the Del Ray Gateway and the coalition’s goal became creating a park that fills a hole in the neighborhood and actively welcomes
Gayle Reuter, a community advocate and friend of Dunning’s, was initially involved in the garden project and, through that, became involved in efforts to create Del Ray Gateway.
“I was very fortunate because I knew Nancy [Dunning] from the beginning of the movement in Del Ray. I met her back in 1991, when we were working on the very first block party,” Reuter said. “The moment I knew this was going to involve doing a garden in her name, I knew I wanted to be involved.”
Reuter said she was impressed that Lee-Reeve seized the initiative to redevelop the site, which has long been a concern for neighborhood residents.
“I’ve lived in Del Ray since 1983 and I can only remember seeing someone in the
pool twice. It’s such an awful eyesore and confusing property and it was such a waste of our gateway,” Reuter said. “When Nancy Lee, who was a mom and was just frustrated, when she took up the cause, I really appreciated it and had to hand it to her for being willing to do it. A lot of great minds came together.”
The project organizers went before city council last year to request admission to its matching fund program for both the garden and the splash park. The city awarded both projects a combined $48,000 matching fund contribution.
Now, the race to raise the funds to qualify for the matching fund is on. Though the group’s crowdfunding efforts are already underway, the campaign will officially kick off through their “Del Ray Night of Giving” event, which will take place at Pork Barrel BBQ on Monday from 5 to 8 p.m. The committee has until June 30, the end of the fiscal year, to raise the remaining $42,000, as they have already raised $6,000.
The event will feature a number of baskets and packages filled with donations from local businesses, including a pet-themed basket, a restaurant-themed basket and a crawfish boil for 20 at the location of the winner’s choosing.
“We’ve gotten some really great donations. The donations are worth about $500 each, so we’re hoping to really kick off our fundraising, let people know about our website and let people know that we have this goal to get to by June 30,” Lee-Reeve said.
The project’s first phase will involve preparing the Colasanto pool for construction by taking down the chain link fence, building a deck over the pool and creating a functional green space that can be utilized by the community. Construction, Lee-Reeve said, can
begin whenever the group’s funding goal is reached.
The group hopes that the project will serve as a representation of Del Ray’s future,
as well as the community members that led it to that point.
“If you’re driving toward Del Ray, it’s the first thing that you see. I think it’s a good space for the community,” Lee-Reeve said. “… There’s no water resources for kids. When I look at other places, like Arlington, they have those types of things. It’s a shame that our community, that’s considered to be so vibrant, lacks that. I have two kids and as a mom, it’s the sort of thing I want for my kids. I hope that as we come together, I hope it sets an example for people to understand if we want things in our community that we can work hard for them and hopefully achieve.”
Moran and Reuter said the garden will act as a refuge for those who knew Dunning, and a way of preserving her memory for those who didn’t.
“I worry sometimes over the years, because she’s been gone at the end of this year for 15 years, that, with the people coming and going, people will forget. For those who live in Del Ray, her belief in what Del Ray could become, now they’ll have somewhere to remember her. They’ll be able to sit in this beautiful garden and just remember,” Reuter said. “And
those who don’t [remember] will. We’re looking to do a plaque that will have a little paragraph showing what she did and why she was important. It’s very overdue and it’s going to be very nice.”
Moran said she, as well as her family, are looking forward to having a place to sit and remember.
“I have always wanted to see something in Del Ray that would honor Nancy’s memory. Having a spot for myself to go to will be a way that I’ll be able to sit and be with my aunt,” Moran said. “Del Ray was such a huge part of her. … Community is a big part of our family and creating this park will honor that and honor her in a way that we haven’t gotten to do yet.”