Columbia residents will soon again have a reason to take children to Finlay Park, the weathered former “crown jewel” of the city’s park system.
City Council has approved $175,000 for the design, construction and installation of a new playground in Finlay Park. North Carolina’s Carolina Parks and Play is set to handle the installation.
According to city parks and recreation director Randy Davis, construction on the new playground will likely finish in July.
The old Finlay Park playground was removed in 2016, with city officials citing the age of the equipment and safety concerns as the reasons for its exit. At the time, the removal of the equipment was a symbol of the greater issues that have plagued Finlay, the city’s onetime showcase park that has fallen into a state of disrepair.
The 18-acre park, which was opened in its current form in 1990, has a number of issues, from beaten up handrails in need of a paintjob to rotting footbridges to failing terraces that constitute the steep hills on the northern end of the park. Perhaps most glaringly, Finlay Park’s iconic spiral fountain at the northern tip of the park — the one that feeds the once popular cascading waterfalls and is often used in promotional shots of the city — hasn’t worked in more than a year, though city officials now say a fix is on the way.
With no playground and an inoperable fountain, residents, families in particular, have had little reason to go to Finlay Park, though it does remain a popular hangout for the city’s homeless population.
Davis hopes the addition of a new playground will help bring life back to the park.
“This is very important,” Davis says. “It allows for increased usage, and diverse usage, with children and parents visiting our park. School trips might be interested in visiting Finlay Park and having that playground experience.”
Renderings of the new playground — which will be in the same spot as the old playground — show it will have the slides, bridges and various climbing amenities common to modern play spaces.
According to City Councilman Howard Duvall, the installation of the new playground in Finlay is taking place separately from City Council’s ongoing discussions of a major, multimillion-dollar complete overhaul of the entire park. The new playground would not be the “destination” playground that has been bandied about in the greater Finlay renovation discussions.
“I think when [Mayor Steve Benjamin] talks about a destination playground, he’s thinking about a mini-Disneyland,” Duvall says, with a slight chuckle. “That would be a much more elaborate playground.”
Benjamin also has entertained the idea of putting a man-made beach in the park.
Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine says Finlay Park is desperately in need of a new playground now.
“Because we don’t have a plan yet as far as the bigger plan for Finlay and how we’re going to do it, I agreed we needed to spend some money to replace the playground,” she says.
Devine says, if a more elaborate destination playground becomes a part of the larger Finlay renovation plans, then the equipment being installed in Finlay this summer could possibly be moved to another park in the city.
While Council hasn’t formally approved a design for the would-be major renovations to Finlay, cost estimates have soared as high as $20 million, though Duvall insists it can be done for less.
“There has only been informal talking, but I think the consensus on Council has kind of been [wanting the major renovations] to be closer to the $10 million figure, rather than $20 million,” Duvall says.
As for the spiral fountain at the top of the hill on the northern side of Finlay Park, Davis says plans are underway for it to be repaired. The main issue with the fountain is the pump.
“We’re going to get the fountain up and running,” Davis says, adding the work could possibly be completed this summer. “We’re planning to bring the pump from below ground to an above-ground structure.”
Davis says the fountain repair will probably cost about $200,000.