For Jack and Chrissi Lillard, a rain-soaked groundbreaking ceremony Thursday marking the beginning of a project to realign Butterfly Lane meant far more than the symbolic gesture of city officials tossing shovelfuls of dirt over their shoulders.
“This is huge for us because it’s been a long road for us to get here. It’s been about six years since we first went before the mayor and Board of Aldermen to present our idea, so now, to see them breaking ground on the first part of this project and getting to be a part of that, it’s very exciting,” Jack Lillard said, speaking at the brief ceremony outside First Missionary Baptist Church on Jefferson Pike.
Included in the first phase of the realignment project was the construction of Sophie & Madigan’s Playground, an all-inclusive playground named after the couple’s daughters who died in a house fire near Myersville on Jan. 31, 2013. Sophie Paige Lillard was 6 years old, and Madigan Grace Lillard was 3.
Within months of the fire, Jack and Chrissi launched Sophie & Madigan’s Playground LLC to raise money to build a playground in the city of Frederick to honor their children’s memories, eventually raising more than $400,000. The Board of Aldermen unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with the nonprofit on July 19, 2018, to include the playground in Westside Regional Park, another aspect of the overall realignment project.
The playground will itself be sectioned off into three distinct but connected play areas, according to the couple. The first area, “Fantasy Land,” will carry a medieval theme and will include things like a three-story-tall “Creative Castle” structure and a hidden dragon. The other areas, the pirate- and mermaid-themed “Neverland” and “Wonderland,” with play features alluding to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” will also represent different loves and interests shared by Sophie and Madigan.
“That was one of the big things we wanted to do with this,” Jack said of the different themes. “We wanted to give back to the community, but we also wanted to make sure we could do that in a way that reflected their interests and preserved their memories.”
The playground also aims to be the first “all-inclusive” play area in the city, Chrissi said, explaining that the equipment will be able to be used by children of all abilities, offering wheelchair accessibility and other features.
“We want to make sure that all kids, all families of all abilities, can come together and play here,” Chrissi said.
The playground will span the “Festival Area” of the park, a roughly 14-acre area along Butterfly Lane that will be bordered on the south and east by two new road extensions included in the project.
The realignment itself will extend Himes Avenue beyond its current dead end with Butterfly Lane south over 2,000 linear feet across the Hargett Farm property to exit onto Jefferson Pike at Swallowtail Drive next to First Missionary Baptist Church, said Tracy Coleman, deputy director of the city’s Department of Public Works. The move will push back Butterfly Lane’s current intersection with Jefferson Pike by about 350 yards to alleviate traffic congestion caused by back-to-back stoplights at the current intersection.
The realignment project will also include extending Contender Way from where it currently ends just past the entrance to Butterfly Ridge Elementary School through Hargett Farm to intersect with the planned extension of Himes Avenue to the southeast of the planned playground. Finally, a parking lot will be constructed along the extension of Contender Way to serve the playground site.
While the city project does not technically include the construction of the playground, which will be funded by Sophie & Madigan’s Playground LLC, the road construction will make the construction of the playground possible while also opening up other areas in the Hargett Farm property that will become Westside Regional Park, Coleman said.
“Phase one of the city’s project will include the construction of Contender Way and a portion of Himes, as well as the construction of [parking] lot C on the north side of the property,” Coleman said. “And then, for phase two, we will be actually working on the existing section of Butterfly between McCain [Drive] and Himes to widen Butterfly Lane and construct a portion of the roundabout that will allow for the extension of Himes.”
Two more parking areas were included in the city’s site plan, but were not funded as of Thursday, Coleman said.
“We have kept those [additional parking lots] as bid options should we either find savings in the current budget or if the mayor and Board of Aldermen decide that they would like to fund additional parking in the next budget,” Coleman said.
The third and final phase will involve constructing the final part of the roundabout at Himes Avenue to connect the extension to Jefferson, as well as closing off the current intersection of Butterfly Lane with Jefferson by constructing a cul-de-sac, Coleman said. Each phase was designed to cause as little traffic disruption as possible.
“We’re trying to stay away from, for example, detouring people up McCain and through that other part of Himes that meets Maryland 180 on the other end,” Coleman said. “And we try to do each phase with as much advanced notice as possible, we try to do it at least a month in advance of starting work.”
Speaking of the city’s project, Coleman estimated the first phase will be completed in early fall. Preliminary estimates from Kinsley Construction, the company contracted to carry out the construction, indicate the overall project will be complete by November 2020.