A Community Gathers: Willie Hall Playground Project

By McKenna Chow

On October 4th, community members from the St. Bernard neighborhood gathered in the library of McDonogh 35. City officials, engineers, and other local leaders discussed the exciting new sustainability initiatives that will make up St. Bernard Campus of the Gentilly Resilience District.

These common goals brought together a passionate crowd of residents. In total, there were just under 40 attendees, many of whom are longtime residents of St. Bernard. Councilman Eugene Green was in attendance and welcomed residents to the event. 

Larry Barabino, the Director of NORD, grew up in St. Bernard, playing at Willie Hall as a child and later coaching football there. “This has always been my community. Everything that has been going on in this community has always affected me”.

At its core, the St. Bernard Campus of the Gentilly Resilience District is a stormwater infrastructure project—featuring an underground stormwater storage tank that is the largest of its kind being built to date in the American South. 

However, one of the most anticipated changes this project will bring about is the return of the Willie Hall Playground, transforming the park next to McDonogh 35 into a public NORD facility as it used to be years ago. This park used to be a critical feature to the neighborhood, inviting children from all ages to play. 

The St. Bernard Campus project will be completed in three phases. Phase I will include the building of a stormwater storage system. After the stormwater storage is built, sports amenities will be built on the playground, including: 

  • Regulation Track & Field Facilities
  • Football/Soccer Field, a Baseball/Softball Field, and a Basketball Court
  • Sports and Area Lighting and Bleachers
  • And a new NORD recreation facility will be constructed during Phase II. 

Phase III involves the incorporation of an entire park on Bayou St. John, which will connect the Willie Hall playground to greenspace on the water. Additional amenities, like shade structures, kayak launches, and walking trails will accompany the park on the bayou. In Phase III, road work and construction of rain gardens throughout the neighborhood will also take place—helping further improve stormwater conditions in the area.

When will the project be completed? This was the question that was on everyone’s mind. A variety of delays have stalled the project to the frustration of many residents, the biggest hurdle being environmental clearance, to make sure the site is safe for construction. Once the project receives this clearance, the contracts for each phase will be bid on by contractors, and groundbreaking is anticipated in early 2024. 

What’s Next? There will be two interactive community workshops to continue discussing the scope of the GRD project, how residents can be more involved, and discuss stewardship actions in the neighborhood. Join us on Nov. 30th and Dec. 7th to learn more!

Where? Stop Jockin’ event space (3600 Jumonville Street)

When? Thursday Nov. 30th & Dec. 7th from 5-6:30

Session 1: Trees & Rain Gardens (11/30) 
Join as experts from Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL) and Batture explore benefits of trees and rain gardens, how to become a neighborhood steward, and what to expect with the St. Bernard Campus groundbreaking in 2024. Additionally, learn how you can request trees to be planted in your yard (for free!), and vote for what species you want to see in the rain gardens coming to the St. Bernard neighborhood. 

Session 2: Flood Tracking & Storm Water Solutions (12/7)During the second session we’ll walk through the exciting updates surrounding the stormwater storage tank, flood benefits for the neighborhood, and how you can help track storms.