New Fort Kid moving toward the finish line

Construction equipment at the Fort Kid site across from the Knoxville Museum of Art last week. (Photo by J.J. Stambaugh)

Fort Kid once held a special place in the hearts of thousands of Knoxvillians both young and old, and officials are hopeful that the popular playground’s replacement will be ready to greet a new generation by the end of this year.

In fact, City Council recently accepted a $44,456 gift from Visit Knoxville to cover the costs of fences and benches, bringing the much anticipated project a step closer to completion. 

“We do hope to wrap it up,” said Chip Barry, the City’s Deputy Chief of Operations.

Perched on  the western  edge of the World’s Fair Park on the border between downtown Knoxville and the Fort Sanders neighborhood, the sprawling wooden castle entranced young children, teens and adults alike for 30 years with its towers, bridges and slides.

Fort Kid as it appeared during much of its 30-year history.

Built by volunteers during the city’s 1991 Bicentennial Celebration, many residents saw Fort Kid as something special. Years of often passionate debate over the aging playground’s ultimate fate (often triggered by rising maintenance costs) ended in 2020 when it was announced that Fort Kid would be torn down due to safety concerns.

In order to learn what the playground’s users wanted in a replacement, City officials conducted a survey in which they asked people about their personal experiences with Fort Kid and the features they appreciated the most.

The end result of that process is the playground now under construction on the site of the original. Although officials had initially planned for the facility to be finished late last year and cost less than $500,000, neither goal proved to be realistic in the end, explained Barry. 

“We had delays in figuring out the best options … and getting material costs set because material costs have changed dramatically,” he said. “Concrete, unfortunately, was one of those items where prices were changing almost day by day.”

 According to Barry, the $1 million cost of replacing Fort Kid is being split 50-50 between the City and donors like Visit Knoxville, the Downtown Knoxville Alliance and Thomas Boyd. 

“That’s a good public/private partnership right there,” he said.

An illustration of the proposed play structure that will replace the wooden castle at Fort Kid later this year. Source: City of Knoxville

Published on September 12, 2022.