Selmo Park committee continues work on master plan

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By ALLYSON COOK
Reporter

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — A university committee of students and administrators are working on a plan for the reuse of Selmo Park.

Selmo Park was the site of the post-Civil War mansion where university presidents have lived for nearly 90 years before its demolition in August 2014. Since the demolition the university is looking to create a park with large gathering space on the west side of campus.

The Selmo Park committee met with Gould Evans design firm Wednesday, Nov. 16, to adjust the master plan. The committee includes, Beth Rutt, director of student activities; Dr. Shari Bax, vice provost for student experience and engagement; Vivian Richardson, university archivist; Luke Hawley, Student Government Association president; Mitch Campana, Spotlight president; and other university representatives from facilities and the University Foundation.

Gould Evans was hired by the university in 2014 to create a plan for Selmo Park. Gould Evans presented the master plan in April 2015 where the planning committee decided to put the plan on hold. The committee wanted to see how students began to use the open space before they made a permanent decision.

Students haven’t utilized the space very much since the demolition, according to various people on the committee. Bax said less than half a dozen students have requested to reserve the space of Selmo Park.

The master plan was developed with input from two focus groups of current students who live on and off campus. The main idea that came from the focus groups as written in the master plan, was to highlight multiculturalism at UCM by including historical information on the African-American slave, Selmo, and groups and clubs around campus such as the National PanHellenic Council.

Students wanted to preserve the existing trees and add only a few recreational amenities but not clutter the park, according to information presented at the meeting. Additional amenities such as picnic tables, grills, electrical outlets and Wi-Fi were recommended. The main theme was creating a space everybody at UCM could use.

The original master plan featured a new open-air event pavilion for large group gatherings, restroom facilities, site lighting and improvements to pedestrian safety at crossings on Holden Street. However, the representative from Gould Evans asked if students had used the space often and in what ways. Hawley and Campana said students were not aware of the capability to use the space. They said if amenities were added to the park, students would want to use them.

“Students want to see things happen,” Rutt said.

Overall, the committee members agreed they wanted to create a public park. Hawley said many students have asked why they didn’t make the park into a parking lot, but the committee did not even discuss that as an option. Gould Evans’ primary goal with redeveloping Selmo Park is to connect people in the center of west campus and pull parking away from the center.

The committee drafted a list of amenities they want to see at Selmo Park. These include historical information about Selmo and the Nickerson family whom originally owned the house, power supply, public art, fire pit, Wi-Fi booster, lighting and accessibility for people and maintenance crews. During the meeting a consensus was made that approximately three pavilions with electricity and picnic tables would be put in Selmo Park. One pavilion holding about 80 people and two smaller ones with a capacity between 30 to 45 people is ideal.

Campana said Spotlight would use the area, but the park needs a power source because Spotlight likes to host events that need external power such as blowing up inflatables.

The park will include sidewalks. Gould Evans said they did a site survey before meeting with the committee and looked to see where natural paths are occurring. That is how they will plan their sidewalks.

Rutt said students aren’t asking for play fields since they already have the east Ellis turf field to play at.

The money for Selmo Park is coming from a general university improvement budget. Also, money could come from savings realized from W.C. Morris and Humphreys building renovations that ran under budget.

Selmo Park was listed as a Missouri Historic Site in 1962. Edmond A. Nickerson, a well-known Missouri attorney who was one of the original signers of the 1875 Missouri Constitution, built the mansion in 1866. Nickerson was imprisoned in in 1861 during the Civil War after speaking out for the Confederate cause. Selmo, a newly emancipated slave, visited Nickerson daily in jail to bring him baskets of food. He eventually helped him escape from prison. Nickerson named the 10 acres of land where his mansion stood Selmo Park in recognition of the former slave.

Eight UCM presidents lived in the 14-bedroom home after the university purchased it in 1926. The university demolished the home after engineering firm Burns and McDonnell estimated it would require a $2 million renovation. The board of governors decided to demolish the house because they felt it was not right to spend funds on the renovations, instead they want to benefit students more directly.