Flint, MI — The City of Flint and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation are lending financial support to the expansion and renovation of Berston Field House.
On Nov. 14, 2022, Flint City Council accepted a $10 million grant from the Mott Foundation and allocated a further $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the north Flint recreation center’s remodel.
“Berston has been a community gem since 1923,” said Mott Foundation President and CEO Ridgway White. “It’s exciting to think about how this project will help create the kind of space that staff, volunteers and residents deserve as they launch into their second century.”
Bryant Nolden, a Genesee County commissioner and executive director of Friends of Berston, first revealed the nonprofit organization’s planned improvements for the field house at the council’s Nov. 9 Finance Committee meeting.
There, Nolden said that the project was five years in the making and described a host of new features Flintstones can expect after the renovation is complete.
“We’re going to put a 57,000-square-foot new building on the back of the existing building. It’s going to have three gymnasiums in it. It’s going to have walking track up top. It’s going to have a full recreational workout facility in it, [and] we’re going to have a commercial kitchen,” Nolden told council members. “These plans are huge.”
According to Nolden, other planned additions to the facility include an amphitheater with a splash pad, new basketball courts, a regulation-size softball field, a new handicap-accessible playground, as well as football, soccer, and lacrosse fields.
In preparation for the project, Nolden told the council that the Friends of Berston purchased and tore down a former school behind Berston Field House.
He said the organization also removed a 15,000-gallon drum from the ground, remediated the soil and bought large amounts of property on nearby Dewey and Jameson streets. According to Nolden, Friends of Berston plans to vacate Dewey Street to make Berston Field House “a full-size recreation and arts campus.”
Nolden said that all of the facility’s coming design features are detailed in a master plan for the project by Flint-based architecture firm THA Architects Engineers.
A Brief History of Berston
Berston Field House was built in 1923 on land donated by Neil J. Berston, a developer and philanthropist. The facility was posthumously named after him.
Nolden said Berston is most well known for its F.W.C. Boxing Club–the home of Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields–and its basketball program, which includes men’s, women’s and under 16 Amateur Athletic Union leagues.
“If you think that you’ve had a decent basketball game in the City of Flint at one time or another, you came to Berston Field House,” Nolden told Flint Beat.
Among Berston Field House’s other programs are Creative Expressions Dance Studio, Chosen Few Arts Council, a bicycle club, a senior line dance and exercise program and yoga.
According to Nolden, when the City of Flint began closing many of its public recreational facilities due to debt in 2009, he asked then-Flint mayor Dayne Walling for the keys to the building.
“I just wanted to keep the building open so that the young folks in the neighborhood would be able to come in and play basketball for two to three hours,” Nolden said. “I felt that if I was able to keep the building open for two or three hours, they’d be tired when they leave from playing basketball. They would go home, take a shower, get something to eat, and they wouldn’t get in trouble.”
Since then, Nolden has served as the administrator of Berston Field House–first as volunteer director and then as executive director since 2016.
“I tell people all the time–being a county commissioner is what I do. My job is actually being executive director of Berston,” Nolden said.
What’s Ahead for the Field House
Back at the Nov. 9 committee meeting, Nolden told council the overall cost of Berston’s renovation and expansion is actually $26 million.
The remaining $14.5 million needed for the project will come from other sources, including the state, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and “large donors that I’m not at liberty to speak of right now that are ready to step up,” he said.
Friends of Berston’s next step for the project will be calling for bids from contractors in January 2023, Nolden added, with work hopefully starting by March of the same year.
He anticipated the project will continue until at least 2024.
Nolden said that Friends of Berston plans to construct the 57,000-square-foot expansion first. When it is completed, they will move all activities into the new building, allowing the facility to remain open throughout Berston’s renovations and expansion.
Following a suggestion from Flint City Council President Allie Herkenroder, Nolden also said Berston’s board will consider including a computer lab and hiring computer teachers as part of the expansion in order to help bridge the digital divide in the community. He added that the field house currently does offer Wi-Fi for guests.
“Berston has been here for 100 years,” Nolden told Flint Beat. “We want to make it sustainable and engaging for community for many years to come. It’s always been a beacon of hope for the City of Flint – especially north Flint.”