Ramblings: Washington Park Cottage Spared but 'At Risk'; Airport To Upgrade Parking; RAM House Gets New Home

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another.

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another. We’re on the lookout for tidbits related to money in politics, data, business, civic engagement or interesting events. Think you know of something that could be a Rambling? Drop us a line at editor@roanokerambler.com and we may well write about it. Happy reading!

Construction of Washington Park’s new swimming pool will spare a dilapidated 19th-century caretaker’s cottage known as the Evans House, city officials say. The cottage is seen as it was in December 2023. PHOTO BY DON PETERSEN FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

Washington Park cottage 'at risk'

Construction of Washington Park’s new swimming pool will spare a dilapidated 19th-century caretaker’s cottage, city officials say.

But time may not be so kind, according to City Manager Bob Cowell.

“We have an engineers’ report that says the cottage is at risk of imminent failure,” Cowell said Tuesday at a meeting of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

City Council has made it clear the city won’t fully fund restoring the building, the city manager said. Rather, it will be up to residents who advocated saving the 1840s cottage, sometimes known as the Evans House.

Cowell said he has no idea how much it might cost to fix up the cottage — which would range widely from stabilization to full restoration.

Roanoke is still planning to open a new $3 million pool before the summer 2025 on the lower section of Washington Park. But its footprint won’t encroach on the cottage as initially thought.

“Our commitment was, could we find a way to locate the pool without demolition?” Cowell said at a City Council meeting earlier this month. “And we’ve done that.”

Advocates say the building plays an important role in the city’s Black history, at one time the home of a caretaker in the Jim Crow era.

Cathy Carter, who serves on the parks advisory board, said Tuesday she did not realize the severity of the cottage’s condition.

“All of a sudden we’re hearing the building’s ready to fall over at the next wind,” said Carter, a founder of the group Friends of Washington Park that has advocated restoration.

Alison Blanton of the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation said the group is eager to work with the city to raise funds for preservation.

“I am concerned that during construction — and right now just exposure to the elements — that it will become more deteriorated,” Blanton said.

She asked that any money earmarked for demolition be used for stabilization instead, but Cowell said the city never budgeted for demolition costs.

The swimming pool will encroach on some existing playground equipment, which will be dismantled and relocated, said parks manager Cindy McFall.

The pool will include a lazy river, giant slide, shallow wading area and space for lap swimming.

“It’s a nice collaborative design that incorporates something for everyone in the community,” she said.

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Airport to enlarge parking spaces

Roanoke’s airport embarks next month on a $10 million parking lot upgrade in large part because today’s cars are too big to fit into the allotted spaces.

The 15-month project will also include charging stations for two dozen electric vehicles, according to the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport.

“The majority of the pavement needs to be replaced and restriped,” the airport says on its website. “The design and layout of the lots were completed prior to the popularity of SUVs and larger trucks with narrower spaces and drive lanes, often making it difficult to maneuver in and out of spaces and around the lots.”

Repaving will affect the short-term and long-term lots and take place in phases, so more than 1,300 spaces will be available at a given time.

The airport will eliminate the cell phone lot, which it says is underused, opening up 50 spaces for paid parking. Overall, the project will not add net parking spaces.

Parking is free for 30 minutes.

During construction, the overflow lot across Aviation Drive will cost $8 per day, instead of $9 previously. Short- and long-term lots cost $1 per half hour, with a daily maximum of $16 and $9, respectively.

Roanoke Area Ministries announced to great fanfare Friday that a donation from a local family allowed the nonprofit to purchase a 1960s office building at 410 Elm Ave. SW. At right, Prabhat Jain, the CEO of Virginia Transformer Corporation, said the family’s Hindu faith teaches them to do good in this life to earn a better life in the next. PHOTO BY HENRI GENDREAU FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

RAM House finds new shelter

Roanoke’s major daytime homeless shelter will move to a new home on Elm Avenue.

Roanoke Area Ministries announced to great fanfare Friday that a donation from a local family allowed the nonprofit to purchase a 1960s office building at 410 Elm Ave. SW.

RAM House, which serves hot meals and provides financial aid to people facing eviction, will now be next door to a drug recovery home that recently moved into a former homeless shelter.

The new site will also include showers, a private space with mental health professionals, a computer lab and a mobile medical service, nonprofit leaders said.

Prabhat and Vandana Jain donated an undisclosed amount to purchase the roughly 6,000-square-foot building, according to RAM, which will be called The Jain Care Center.

Property records show the ministry bought the building for $715,000.

Prabhat Jain, the CEO of Virginia Transformer Corporation, said the family’s Hindu faith teaches them to do good in this life to earn a better life in the next.

“The entire family has been inspirational to me, and has provided me with hope and faith,” Melissa Woodson, RAM Houses’s executive director said at a press conference.

The Jains also surprised RAM House leaders Friday by announcing they would match donations to the nonprofit’s annual fundraiser for emergency financial aid through the end of March. The campaign finished the year $20,000 shy of its $200,000 goal, according to The Roanoke Times, which sponsors the Good Neighbors Fund.

RAM says it has long needed a new space, which it rents from Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church, which once operated a school out of the old brick building at 824 Campbell Ave SW.

Last year, the day shelter served 1,619 individuals, provided 70,000 hot meals and gave financial aid to 927 households.


Correction (1/31/24) — A previous version of the Rambling “RAM House finds new shelter” incorrectly described Roanoke Area Ministries as the city's only daytime shelter; Samaritan Inn also runs a shelter. We regret the error.

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