Richard and Monique Smith have big plans for their 70-acre property north of Coxendale Road.
The couple – who own seven construction, demolition and recycling businesses in Chester – plan to build on the land surrounding the 40-foot by 76-foot U.S. flag they installed there late last year.
Unity Park, as it will be known, will include a 5,000-square-foot steel and glass building that will be used as an educational venue for fifth-grade students to learn about recycling and the history of the nation’s flag. The park will include a grassy area with trees, flowers and bronze sculptures of historical figures between the flag and building. The building will consist of mainly an auditorium.
Richard said he is expecting the building to be open by late 2020.
Several Eagle Scouts are planning to build a loop trail on the wooded property as well, he said.
In the meantime, the park will be hosting four major events this year: a national firefighters extrication competition the first week of May, a movie night on June 20 sponsored by Chesterfield County, a Chester Kiwanis Club event commemorating Sept. 11, 2001, and a Christian concert for youth on Nov. 16 with an estimated 10,000 in attendance.
He expects the number of events to double next year. “We want to be true to the theme of Unity Park: supporting the community, public safety and veterans,” he said.
He envisions the educational building attracting students from schools within one-hour drive of Chester, with field trips lasting half of the school day and lunch provided by Unity Park. The building would open by September 2021, he said.
The Smiths believe it is their civic responsibility to engage with the community and utilize their resources to educate future generations. “We feel like the recycling industry and flag history are two positive pathways for our community,” Richard said. “We’re just trying to give back in a way we know how and in a way that will make a high impact.”
The fifth-largest flag in the country has generated a lot of activity since it was raised Nov. 18, he said.
Located adjacent to USA Iron and Metal, the flag is actually one of three that are flown on the 212-foot pole. A team of five or six changes the flag every three or four weeks, he said.
The first time, they did it on a Saturday morning, but they received about 1,000 phone calls from people wondering why it was down or missing. Lesson learned. Since then the flag is changed between 10 and 11 p.m. to generate less reaction.
“It takes 16 minutes to get it down, 15 minutes to switch and 16 minutes to put it back up,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”
The flag is illuminated at night and lowered to half staff whenever the governor or president
R.J. Smith Companies’ employee Jim Ingle is project manager for Unity Park.
The goal is to have a camera with a live feed of the flag visible on usaironandmetal.com so veterans and others who cannot visit the site can see it, he said, noting that he’s received requests for such.
“We’re really excited about what this project is going to do long-term for our community,” Richard said, noting that he receives texts, emails and phone calls daily about the flag.
He recalled a woman who said she had a bad day at work, was driving home and saw the flag. She then realized her day wasn’t really that bad.
“It’s affecting people on how they’re going to treat their family when they walk through the door because they’re humbled and grateful,” he said.
“God made us
The Smiths have been married 20 years, reside in the Matoaca District and have three daughters, Savannah Lynn, 16, Sheyenne Lee, 10, and Sheridan Lane, 7. All attend Guardian Christian Academy, 6851 Courthouse Road, which is located next to Southside Church of the Nazarene, south of Route 288 across from Pocahontas State Park and the women’s prison.
“I’m blessed to have a great partner in life,” Richard said. “We’re so unified in our beliefs: God, family
Those interested in arranging use of the park for events can email Rachel Fenton at firstname.lastname@example.org.