FAYETTEVILLE -- The city and the nonprofit board behind the Yvonne Richardson Community Center plan to make an extra effort to ensure the families who use the center the most have a say in its expansion.
The 10,000-square-foot center, built in 1996, features an indoor basketball court, computer laboratory and conference room and outdoor playground and garden. It lies on Rock Street near the Willow Heights public housing complex.
The center offers an after-school program, summer and spring break camps, physical education for home-schooled children and kid-friendly gardening. Adults also can partake in pickleball and an open gym at certain times with basketballs provided.
The city included $1 million toward the facility's expansion in the park bond issue voters approved in April 2019. Park staff envisioned adding a teaching kitchen, multipurpose room and storage space. The plan also included added features to the Buddy Hayes pocket park across the street, with a grove for performances, access carved out to the nearby creek, fencing and a new sidewalk.
The $1 million from the bond issue will only cover some of the combined costs of design and construction, said Lee Farmer, recreation superintendent for the city. Park employees plan to put together tiered options in the hopes of attracting philanthropic dollars, he said. Potential donors could look at different concepts ranging in cost and scale and decide whether they want to contribute.
"I think the public will drive us on what they want to see," Farmer said. "The facility was built to help kids and families in southeast Fayetteville have recreational opportunities. We're doing a phenomenal job with that, but there's definitely room for growth."
Quinn Childress, president of the nonprofit center's board, said he wants to ensure the expansion serves the original intended purpose: a place for lower-income children, often people of color, to feel safe and enjoy recreation.
"We're specifically serving the underserved community. That's what the board's perspective is," Childress said. "This is who and what the YRCC should expand for."
Childress grew up down the street at Willow Heights. He said his time at the center helped him learn discipline to make the right decisions in life. He said he's a prime example of the type of person the center is meant to reach.
Underserved communities typically don't get a seat at the table when it comes to these types of decisions, Childress said. The center has launched a series of public meetings to devise a survey that will go out to residents to determine what features need to be included.
The second such meeting will be Tuesday. Board members also plan to knock on neighbors' doors to get direct feedback, he said.
"This is a critical time. We don't want the YRCC to be gentrified. We don't want that," Childress said. "That's why we're trying to do whatever it takes to make sure that those people in the underserved community are heard, and they're valued, and we can accommodate to what they need."
Local firm Miller Boskus Lack Architects was hired for $27,390 in October to design the expansion. Public input and fundraising will determine what all is featured in the design, Farmer said.
The center is celebrating its 25th year. The idea is to design the expansion for the next 25 years, he said.
"We know it's going to be more than a teaching kitchen. We know it's going to be more than storage, obviously," Farmer said. "So what is the demand, what does the public want this place to be? And within reason, what can we do?"
Mom's wish list
Michelle Campbell of Fayetteville said her three daughters, Aiyanna, 18; Alexcia, 17; and Amiya, 10, each spent time at the center starting around age 6. Aiyanna and Alexcia attended into their teen years. Amiya is enrolled in the summer camp this year.
The girls love swimming, Campbell said. Children at the center take field trips to the Wilson Park pool, but having a smaller swimming pool on-site would be a huge benefit to the community, she said.
A kitchen also would help kids learn to cook, which will have a lasting effect on their lives, Campbell said. After gardening at the center, Campbell's daughters regularly started eating vegetables -- even raw ones, she said.
More flex space also would enable families to become more involved with shared group activities, she said.
The center has left a lasting impression on the girls' lives, Campbell said. Aiyanna is the first recipient of a college scholarship fund set up at the center in honor of Tyrec Nance. Nance was a frequent attendee at the center and died last year at age 18 in a drowning incident at Beaver Lake.
Aiyanna Campbell will have most of her tuition paid to attend Southeastern Community College in Burlington, Iowa, through the center's scholarship and a track scholarship. Aiyanna also became a junior counselor for the summer camp and hopes to be a regular counselor next summer.
The two older girls still keep in touch with their past counselors, Michelle Campbell said. The youngest daughter, Amiya, gets excited to wake up every day to go to summer camp. She sets her own alarm and is ready to go every morning to make it on time.
The purpose of the center still rings true today, Michelle Campbell said.
"Their values have withstood the test of time," she said. "I really think they've done a very good job of that -- to provide a safe space for children of any socioeconomic status. Children from all walks of life, from all different backgrounds, no matter what color they are, where they come from, or their family status -- it really just works for the community."
Plans to grow
Farmer said the Parks Department will host town hall-style meetings in the fall and use all the public input in conceptual designs. Once those are finished, the public will be invited again to provide feedback on the images, he said.
The City Council on Tuesday will consider buying land northeast of the center for $75,000. The city owns all but three other plots of land abutting the center. The goal is to acquire as much land around the center as the city can get, Farmer said.
The city hopes to begin construction on the expansion with Phase II of the city's bond projects. The City Council could potentially authorize Phase II projects sometime next year, and 85% of the money for those projects would have to be spent or obligated within three years, Chief Financial Officer Paul Becker said.
The Yvonne Richardson Community Center was named after the daughter of former Arkansas Razorbacks men’s basketball Head Coach Nolan Richardson. Yvonne Richardson died at 15 after a battle with leukemia.
To learn more about the center or to donate, go to: