By Mae Hunt | [email protected]
Four months after officially launching fundraising efforts, organizers behind the Del Ray Gateway Project are celebrating reaching their goal of $48,000.
Combined with a matching grant from the City of Alexandria, the funds will be used to revitalize the Colasanto Pool on Commonwealth Avenue, which has been closed since 2010.
The pool, which is located at the northern entrance to the Del Ray neighborhood, has drawn complaints from many community members over the years due to its appearance. The Gateway project calls for transforming the space from what many see as a wasted area to an interactive, family-oriented space: a splash park for children. The area will be adjacent to the long-in-the-works Nancy Dunning Memorial Garden.
“It was just perfect for the two to come together,” said Gayle Reuter, who had known Dunning since the early 1990s and has long been part of her memorial project.
Dunning, a well-known realtor known as the “Queen of Del Ray” due to her active presence in the neighborhood, was murdered in her home in 2003 by serial killer Charles Severance, which rattled the closely knit community. Reuter said the combination of the garden and
the splash park “couldn’t have been more of a fitting tribute to Nancy – the fact that this was now going to be this great gateway park to Del Ray, which she loved so much.”
The splash park itself was proposed by the city, but funds to start construction were appropriated for 2022.
Nancy Lee-Reeve, a Del Ray resident of almost a decade and a mother of two, saw potential to do something sooner. With support from other community members, she created a petition and brought it before city council. Council approved a matching grant of up to $48,000 for the splash park and memorial garden. After receiving the grant, Lee-Reeve and fellow organizers set out to raise $48,000 of their own by June 30 in order to receive the full matching grant.
Lee-Reeve and others involved in the project created a crowdfunding campaign and officially launched the effort through the “Del Ray Night of Giving” event on Feb. 26. They reached their goal almost a month ahead of schedule.
“I feel a huge sense of relief and excitement at the same time,” Lee-Reeve said. “… I feel like we’ve come a long way, we’ve accomplished a lot, and I give all the credit to the community and all the people who helped turn something that was literally nothing into now, phase one.”
Reuter said raising the funds ahead of schedule speaks to the nature of the Del Ray community.
“When it comes to trying to raise funds for anything in Del Ray, it’s just overwhelming, the generosity and support we get from the businesses and the neighbors,” Reuter said.
Now that funds have been secured, efforts to clear the site of the future Gateway will begin in August. The memorial garden is expected to be finished before the spray park, which the city plans to break ground on in 2020. In the meantime, project organizers are planning to place a deck over the pool so it can be used as public space as soon as possible. As part of the original plan for 2022, the City of Alexandria has $450,000 set aside to help bring the spray park to reality.
Lee-Reeve said that she feels the final vision of the Gateway project is, finally, within grasp.
“We just have to take it to the next level. … A lot of the funding is there, but it’s not all there. We want to make it as nice as we can. So that’s the next hurdle to jump, I mean, the city has $450,000 slated for it, which would give us the basic spray park, but it wouldn’t give us the landscaping, the lighting, you know, the seating around it.
So that’s where we’re going to have to come in and be creative and find sources of support,” she said.
Kate Moran, Dunning’s niece, said the memorial garden will be a meaningful tribute to her aunt.
The memorial’s star-shaped entrance will also pay tribute to Jim Dunning, Nancy Dunning’s husband and former Alexandria sheriff, who died in 2012.
“Our family and the committee [were] extremely grateful [for] the outpouring of the community and the support for this project,” Moran said. “I think that what we saw over the last couple months in raising funds for the Del Ray Gateway and the Nancy Dunning garden, specifically, was just how much my aunt was supported, respected, loved by many in the community. …We’re just really excited to see the project take shape.”