Saving City Farm

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Menchvilles’ student body has become very involved in a community issue surrounding a waterfront property near the school, after Newport News City Council voted to close the minimum security detainment facility located on the premises. Now, with discussions of possible developers scoping out the land, Earth Science classes have been writing letters to city representatives, and the Political Unity Club has drafted school-wide petitions to save the land.

In June, 1918, Newport News purchased 240 acres of land along the James River that coincide with the Menchville and Denbigh area; becoming, as we know it today, the City Farm. Land has been added and sold over the years, the number — now including a city park and an old landfill — sits at 251 acres today.

The jail was opened as a minimum risk facility for nonviolent inmates the 1930s. Though not all inmates contributed, the City Farm had become locally  known for providing crews to tend city lawn services, remove graffiti, pick up roadside trash, and perform other community tasks. However, the facility was closed in 2015 after failing inspections – the cost of upgrading the facility outweighing the operation profits.

Beginning in the early 1990s,  a piece of the (then) City Farm — mainly comprised of large cornfields and farmland worked by jail inmates — was converted to the now Riverview Farm Park. Making it’s debut in 2000, the fenced area includes outdoor trails, playgrounds, a skateboard park, soccer fields, a gymnastics center and other services. However as the land developed, the 58 acre waterfront property the jail sits on, was promised to the public as being apart of a scenic reserve – hardly accessible until now because of the jail.

With the land now sitting uninhabited, local citizens have taken the initiative to ensure the prime piece of land stays out of developer hands; whom, rumor has it, are looking to construct a series of high-end homes along the shore. Andrian Whitcomb, president of “Citizens for Riverview Farm Park,” has started a Facebook Page for the cause; attracting media attention and nearly 600 likes. City Council meetings for months have also attracted activists for the land, groups attending in dozens to voice their opinion and support preservation.

“Honestly, the land needs to stay undeveloped. Newport News has enough housing developments, and the more they develop, the more animals lose their homes. It just makes me upset,” said Lea Sellers, a Menchville Junior who’s family lives in the area.

Seniors: Luke Wells, Jessica von Schmidt-Pauli, Fofi Gouletas, Juniors: Skyler Dewall, Alexis Gayle, Sophia Ramirez, and Sophomore Liliana Ramirez have also gone door to door in the Riverview area asking for residents support in keeping the land clear.

“One of the main issues I have with the development is that it is completely undermining the plan that is already in place. Riverview Farm Park was originally meant to extend to the river – hence the name Riverview. I think that we should honor the commitment made 25 years ago to eventually extend Riverview to the pier and thus open up more opportunities for the public to enjoy this beautiful area,” Sophia Ramirez said about the issue.

According to Ramirez, once they’ve gathered enough support inside of the school and community, the group plans to attend a City Council meeting and voice their opinions. The group has made informational posters about the proposal, and has spent several days petitioning during lunch. Dewall, Ramirez, and Junior Mary Arnold have also been featured in a Daily Press article and interviewed by Education Reporter Jane Hammond.