UP students bring life to neglected community park

Posted on October 21, 2020

University of Pretoria (UP) students have successfully restored an unkept public park in Hatfield previously owned by the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality. This is yet another project that has brought their skills out of the classroom and into the community to effect positive change as part of UP’s social responsibility efforts.

The Community Park project, which was launched last year, formed part of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology’s Community-Based Project Module (JCP). Initially led by Dr Martina Jordaan and now Nita Mennega, the model gives students the opportunity to use their skills to find solutions for and offer assistance to communities beset with socio-economic challenges.

The park is located on the corner of Richard and Burnett Streets in Hatfield, just outside the gates of UP’s Hillcrest Sports Campus, and is now part of the University’s property. The revamp was carried out in collaboration with UP’s Department of Facilities Management.

Speaking at the launch of the park project last year, final-year mechanical engineering student Altus Bisschoff, who was project manager at the time, said it was a privilege to have led the exercise to restore the park and to have served the Hatfield community.

“We decided to make a multigenerational, multifunctional park to cater for pensioners, schoolchildren and exercisers,” he said. “This is phase one. There is a master plan for the future, in which we envision this park being transformed into a fully functional community park with lots of playground equipment and outdoor gym equipment.”

And they have managed to do just that. This year, the students added general park décor, gym and playground equipment, a safe-landing sandbox and redid the sensory walkway.

Even more impressive is that former UP graduate Paul Ssali, a mechanical engineer of engineering consultants Zutari, voluntarily came on board as project manager this year. “We have witnessed quite a lot of excitement around the gym equipment – quite a number of people are using the equipment already, so we were pleased that it was so well received,” Ssali said.

“We all have a part to play,” he said. “That’s why, over the past five years, I have been participating as a JCP mentor to help Dr Jordaan and JCP students where I can. I encourage all my fellow alumni to do the same, as every bit of effort counts.”

The restoration, however, didn’t come without challenges – the COVID-19 pandemic being the most obvious. “The lack of access to the park delayed things, and many of the suppliers were closed for an extended period, with many not reopening at all,” Ssali explained. “We planned to have completed the project much earlier, but we had to move the dates quite a bit.”

Ssali hopes that the University will continue to make more of these sorts of upliftment projects available to students. “The park does more than add value to the surrounding community; it also fosters a sense of responsibility in the students involved and allows them to gain real-life experience in project planning, design and execution.”

He added that he hopes the park will keep improving over the next few years. “The project reinforces my belief in the need for mentorship and coaching for our younger generation,” he said. “If we are going to help students prepare for the new future, we need to be more hands-on and nurture the skills required to guarantee their success and expedite our economic growth, now more than ever.”  

- Author Masego Panyane

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