City shutters Fort Kid after safety complaints

Betty BeanFeature, Inside 640

Kids wanting to play at Fort Kid during their Thanksgiving holiday break were surprised and disappointed to be shooed out by a security guard who explained to their parents that the park is closed due to safety concerns.


And sure enough, the city website says, “NOTE – As of November 3, 2018 – this area is closed. Updates will be posted as available.”

No updates had been posted as of Dec. 4.

Kevin Clark of the Knox County Health Department shared the Fort Kid Complaint, which detailed safety issues including loose planks on the jungle gym, a large, exposed rusty nail, splintered planks, tripping hazards and other problems. The city shut down the park as a result of this report.

The closing of Fort Kid comes as a surprise to Beth Waters, who was the driving force behind its opening in April 1991, and to her son Alexander Waters, who was one of the first children to enjoy the park’s wooden play structures. Its proximity to the thriving arts community between the Knoxville Museum of Art and the Victorian houses that were publicly owned artists’ residences was another plus. Park visitors used the snack bar in the basement of one of the houses, and Waters says that “itty-bitty boys’ and girls’ restrooms” were installed there, too.

Fort Kid at its peak

Those facilities were discontinued when the Victorian houses (which had been renovated during the World’s Fair) and the nearby Candy Factory, which housed much of Knoxville’s arts community, were sold to private owners early in the administration of Bill Haslam, who, perhaps ironically, had been finance director of the citizens’ group Beth Waters organized to support Fort Kid.

Today, the only visible restroom option is a Porta Potty in the parking lot.

In 2014, Fort Kid board chair Waters and her son got a group of nearly 200 volunteers together to renovate and repair the park’s wooden structures. More recently, the Waterses attended a meeting with city officials, where the retaining wall was the topic of discussion.

“When Alexander and I left the meeting, they said, ‘We’ll get back to you.’ That was late summer, and we never did hear back,” Beth Waters said, adding that she felt uneasy about Fort Kid’s future, although she has praise for the day-to-day maintenance efforts of the Public Building Authority.

Eric Vreeland, the city’s senior director of communications and government relations, said the city was notified of the problems by the PBA.

“Since there were issues related to the original materials used to construct the playground equipment, the city decided to close the park until further notice. Many of the wooden components are worn out and in need of replacement.

“PBA will conduct an assessment of the equipment and make recommendations regarding the play structures. PBA already is in the process of evaluating replacement options for the retaining wall of Fort Kid along World’s Fair Park Drive. …

“Since Fort Kid opened, water splash fountains and a newer playground have been added down the street on the winding World’s Fair Park Drive. Those amenities are located on the northern end of World’s Fair Park, on the opposite side of the Knoxville Museum of Art from Fort Kid.”

Alexander Waters said he is disappointed to learn of the park’s closing.

“Fort Kid’s near and dear to our hearts – I’m kind of the first generation kid to enjoy that. We’d been contacted about the retaining wall. That was on everybody’s radar, and we knew they’d closed a portion of the park, but not the whole thing.

“I was hoping it would be around for the next generation, but I guess nothing gold can stay.”

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