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Monroe Park renovations on track as debate continues over adding contemporary features to city’s oldest public park

Monroe Park will reopen next spring with a slew of improvements if work remains on schedule, but rival factions are battling over whether to modernize the park with contemporary features or make it look as it did during its heyday in the early 1900s.

Capital News Service

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By DeForrest Ballou – Capital News Service

If the renovation work stays on schedule, Monroe Park will reopen next spring with improvements in energy-efficient lighting, walkways and an updated stormwater management system. It will also feature amenities such as pavilions, a ping-pong table, new outdoor furniture and a “Portland Loo.”

But there is more going on behind the scenes besides refurbishing a public park. Rival factions are battling over which century to drag the park into. One group wants to modernize the park with contemporary features; the other wants to make Monroe Park look as it did during its heyday in the early 1900s.

The city of Richmond has leased the park to the Monroe Park Conservancy, a nonprofit group. Under the terms of the lease, the conservancy has raised half of the $6 million needed for renovation and will manage the park once it reopens.

The group wants to adopt the same model that worked with Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia and Madison Square Park in New York. The goal is to keep the park green but bring in business and features to attract all types of visitors.

The Monroe Park Conservancy recently faced scrutiny when the Richmond Free Press reported that the city quietly appropriated $833,659 for Monroe Park. Alice Massie, the president of the conservancy, says those funds are part of the $3 million the city promised to provide when it unanimously approved the lease in March 2014.

Residents of Oregon Hill, the neighborhood just south of the park, oppose the conservancy and its ideas for the public space.

Led by Charles Woodson, Oregon Hill wants to stick to the master plan formulated by the city and the Monroe Park Advisory Council in 2008. That plan focused on making Monroe Park look as it did in during its “historic period of significance” in 1904, with Victorian-era construction.

Oregon Hill residents also oppose leasing the park to the conservancy, fearing the park will not remain open to the public.

Massie and Woodson have made caretaking of the park a priority since 2003, when the Monroe Park Advisory Council was formed and they were two of its members. The advisory council was the driving force behind the master plan.

“It’s a plan, but it’s not construction designs,” Massie said. “The master plan basically was the outline, but then you actually have to make it happen.”

The construction designs were approved in 2010 and updated in 2015. But residents of Oregon Hill say Massie and the conservancy have not been forthcoming about the features they have in mind for the park.

On Thursday, both groups attended a meeting of the Urban Design Committee, an advisory panel created by the Richmond City Council, and discussed some of the features planned for the park.

One of them was the Portland Loo, a public toilet designed for utilitarianism, not comfort, to discourage somebody making it a more permanent residence. The loo faced scrutiny because one proposal is to place it across the street from the last private residential home bordering Monroe Park.

“All these VCU buildings encircling Monroe Park – there is only one holdout. Why is it that they end up putting a loo across from the single-family house of the last remaining holdout?” said Charles Pool of the Oregon Hill Home Improvement Council.

Over the years, Oregon Hill residents have complained about Virginia Commonwealth University encroaching on their neighborhood. To Pool, it is no coincidence that the board of the Monroe Park Conservancy includes three VCU staff members.

The location of the loo has not been finalized. Members of the Urban Design Committee and the conservancy are looking for alternative locations for the public toilet.

The city will hand the park’s reins over to the conservancy once construction is completed. Then, the Monroe Park Conservancy will manage the property.

One of the issues that Oregon Hill has raised is corporate involvement in funding the park’s renovations. The neighborhood fears that if corporations donate large sums of money, they will receive preferential treatment.

In May, for example, the financial services company Capital One held an event at the park, which has been closed to the public since November. When the event was over and the tents were gone, damage had been done to the interior of the park.

Oregon Hill residents raised the issue on Thursday and brought pictures for evidence. Massie said Capital One had rented the park a year in advance, which is why the company had permission to use the park after it was closed.

Massie said that if the conservancy is watching the park and a lessee violates the agreement, the lessee’s insurance would have to cover the damage.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Government

City Thanksgiving Holiday Schedule

RVAHub is not a city-run production but just like most of the city services we’ll be taking a break and be back on Monday.

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City of Richmond government offices, including City Hall, will be closing at noon on Wednesday, November 25, 2020 and will remain closed Thursday, November 26, through Friday, November 27, 2020 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday. City offices will reopen at regular business hours on Monday, November 30, 2020.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities’ administrative offices will operate from 8 a.m. until Noon on Wednesday. All city community centers will operate from 11:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday and will be closed Thursday and Friday.

Richmond Animal Care and Control is currently only available by appointment and will be closed Thursday and Friday. All city libraries will be closed Thursday and Friday. All library branches will resume normal scheduling on Saturday.

This closing will also affect the city’s Solid Waste Management Division. Refuse collection will take place on Wednesday off Thursday and Friday and resume on Saturday, November 28, 2020 at regular schedule from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.

The East Richmond Road Convenience Center will be closed Thursday and Friday and resume on Saturday, November 28, 2020 on a regular schedule from, 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.

For more information on city services and schedules, please visit RichmondGov.com.

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COVID-19 amplifies struggles with mental health, substance abuse – what Henrico County is doing about it

Since the pandemic started in mid-March, communities across the country have seen sharp increases in drug overdoses, suicides and requests for services. The trends have played out locally, with Henrico County already recording 41% more drug overdoses this year than in all of 2019.

RVAHub Staff

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The stresses and strains of the COVID-19 pandemic have been enough to test anyone’s well-being.

But the inescapable challenges – from social isolation and financial uncertainty to concerns about one’s health – can quickly overwhelm those struggling with substance use and mental health, said Leslie Stephen, a program manager with Henrico Area Mental Health & Developmental Services (MH/DS).

“There have just been compounding issues,” she said. “When there are so many issues to deal with, a person’s capacity to take on more is reduced.”

Since the pandemic started in mid-March, communities across the country have seen sharp increases in drug overdoses, suicides and requests for services. The trends have played out locally, with Henrico County already recording 41% more drug overdoses this year than in all of 2019.

“These numbers understate the full problem because many overdoses are not reported,” County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said in a recent letter to the Board of Supervisors on plans to open a detoxification and recovery center. “In recent years, there have been more deaths in Henrico from overdoses than from car accidents, homicides or suicides – and this trend will be true again in 2020.”

Similarly, the number of individuals prescreened for hospitalization because of mental health concerns was up 13% from July through September compared with the same period last year.

In addition, orders to place someone in emergency custody rose by 15%. One of every five individuals held on temporary detention orders was later admitted to state facilities, instead of treated locally. That’s higher than normal, in part because fewer beds are available due to the pandemic’s need for physical distancing.

MH/DS bolsters mental health, substance use services during COVID-19

MH/DS, which serves Henrico, New Kent and Charles City counties, has been working to ensure its services remain available and accessible during the pandemic while the county also develops an enhanced treatment model for substance use.

Staff have been conducting appointments mainly by phone or video, although in-person meetings are available if necessary. For more information, go to henrico.us/mhds or bouncebackhc.com. To access services, call (804) 727-8515.

The challenges from COVID-19 have been particularly acute for those who rely on regular, face-to-face support from clinicians and peers. Now, many of those sessions are held virtually.

“You think about folks in recovery, it really is that interaction that makes a difference,” MH/DS Executive Director Laura Totty said. “It’s that daily support that they get. The isolation necessitated by COVID-19 has been a real challenge.”

For many, the pressures and strains will only intensify as the state has imposed tighter measures following a surge in coronavirus cases ahead of the holiday season, which is often a difficult time for those with mental health and substance use challenges.

“I worry that many people may struggle when they’re unable to engage in activities that have given them comfort and support in the past,” Stephen said.

William Pye, a peer specialist with MH/DS, leads a
virtual REVIVE! training session on the administration
of Narcan, a drug that can temporarily reverse the
toxic effects of opioids and save the life of someone
who has overdosed.

In September, the agency also began offering rapid access to medication-assisted treatment for individuals addicted to opioids. After their same-day access assessment, clients are connected with a prescriber for treatment with Suboxone, which curbs symptoms of withdrawal during detoxification.

MH/DS also is offering nine virtual trainings per week on REVIVE!, a free program on how to administer Narcan to save someone after an opioid overdose. Participants receive the medication by mail. To sign up, call (804) 727-8515.

To enhance its mental health services, MH/DS has partnered with the National Counseling Group to provide mobile support to individuals in crisis and avoid hospitalizations whenever possible.

Henrico advances new strategies to help those in recovery

Apart from its work in the pandemic, Henrico continues to look for new and better ways to help those struggling with substance use.

The county recently established a program to cover two weeks of housing costs for qualified individuals when they are admitted to a certified recovery home. So far, 13 recovery residences have applied for the program, which is known as CHIRP or Community-based Housing for Individuals in the Recovery Process.

“This gives the individual a chance to live in a safe, sober environment while they start to work on their recovery,” Totty said.

In addition, Henrico is advancing its plans to build a 24-hour detoxification and recovery center that would provide voluntary, medically supervised recovery services for adults.

The estimated 17,000-square-foot facility is planned on Nine Mile Road, near MH/DS’ East Center, and would have initially 12 to 16 beds. It would be licensed by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and managed by MH/DS with support from public and private partners.

The center was recommended by the Recovery Roundtable, a county work group that spent eight months looking at ways to reduce overdoses and strengthen recovery resources in the community.

“The Recovery Roundtable concluded the lack of access to detoxification is a significant gap and a barrier to recovery,” Vithoulkas said in his recent letter to the Board of Supervisors. “In fact, our jail has become the default provider of public detox in the County, having performed nearly 2,000 detoxes last year.”

Henrico has issued a request for proposals for consulting services as part of its planning for the detoxification and recovery facility. Funding for design and construction are expected to be considered as part of the county’s fiscal 2021-22 budget.

With the pandemic causing so much disruption, Stephen said it has been inspiring to see MH/DS staff confront each challenge and find innovative ways to provide the services the community desperately needs.

“It’s also amazing to see our clients so committed to working on their recovery,” she said. “Even with all that COVID-19 has thrown at them, they are determined to clear the hurdles that are in their way.”

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Henrico County to begin 2020-21 leaf collection efforts week of November 9th

Henrico County will begin providing annual leaf-collection services Monday, Nov. 9, with both free and paid options available for county residents.

RVAHub Staff

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Henrico County will begin providing annual leaf-collection services Monday, Nov. 9, with both free and paid options available for county residents.

Free collection of bagged leaves is scheduled through Feb. 13. Crews will work week to week in five zones; each zone will receive two pickups over the course of the program. Collection is provided automatically for residents living in designated zones. Residents living outside those areas can order free pickup of bagged leaves by calling (804) 727-8770.

Residents are encouraged to place their bags at the curb or road’s edge on the Sunday of the assigned pickup week; crews will begin collection at 7 a.m. Monday. Bags should be free of trash and debris and must be accessible from the street as crews are not authorized to enter private property.

Henrico also will offer vacuum leaf collection from Nov. 9 through Dec. 30 and again from Feb. 22 through March 31. Residents can order the $30 service by calling (804) 501-4275. Leaves should be placed at the curb or road’s edge and be free of trash, sticks and other debris.

Whether using the bagged pickup or vacuum service, residents are encouraged to avoid placing bags or loose leaves in traffic lanes, parking spaces, storm drains or ditches. In addition to creating a potential traffic hazard, misplaced leaves can block drainage and contribute to stormwater pollution.

Henrico’s public-use areas, located at 2075 Charles City Road and 10600 Fords Country Lane, offer residents another leaf-disposal option. Bagged leaves will be accepted at no cost from Nov. 9 through Feb. 13. Loose leaves and other yard debris are accepted year-round at no charge. The public-use areas are open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. except for certain holidays.

Additional information is available from the Department of Public Utilities.

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