Ground will be broken Friday, May 27, for the new Veterans Park in downtown Van Buren.

Mayor Bob Freeman told eighth grade students at Butterfield Trail Middle School the event will begin at 11 a.m. at the new park on the north side of Main Street near the depot. The project also will include the redesign of the current veterans park on the south side of Main Street.

Freeman was at BTMS on Wednesday to join students in an Expeditionary Learning discussion of "Is Freedom Ever Free?" when he revealed the date and time for the highly anticipated $1.3 million project.

Students expressed the desire to partner with the community to raise awareness for the project.

Butterfield Trail will host a celebration of learning night from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 24, in the school safe room where students will discuss what they have learned about the freedoms of speech, religion, want and fear that President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlined in his June 6, 1941, state of the union address.

BTMS teacher Ashleigh Gillespie said students also will accept donations from community members for collages they currently are completing.

The donations will go to help fund the Veterans Park, Gillespie said.

"This is something you can to make a difference," Dr. Karen Endel, BTMS principal, told the students. "As future leaders, you must ensure we have our four freedoms. Investing in the Veterans Park is one way to help."

Plans call for the existing park titled "Veterans Memorial Plaza" to be used as a space of reflection, while the new portion of the park to be titled "Freedom Place" will serve as the entertainment and recreational venue.

The entrance to the park will have a memorial with flags and monuments to honor the five branches of the military, as well as police, fire and first responders. It will include a Battle Cross monument, which will be donated to the city by Chase Haynes, an Eagle Scout with Troop 45 in Van Buren, who offered the monument to display at the park as part of his Eagle Scout project.

Freedom Place will include decorative crosswalks, security fencing, expanded parking areas, vendor parking, farmers market, drinking fountain, restroom facility, outdoor pavilion, children’s play area and interactive water feature.

Freeman told the students Wednesday it was important they understand and be proud of the U.S. freedoms and to work to make this country a better place to live.

He said he was privileged to speak to the students not only as mayor, but as a veteran, son of a veteran and father of an Army captain who was wounded protecting the United States in Iraq.

Freeman said the most gratifying moment of his 12 years as mayor of Van Buren will be the completion of Veterans Park, overshadowing new police and fire stations and senior center.

"I want this for so many other veterans in my community and my father and my son," Freeman said. "I want this to be a solemn place to reflect on the veterans and their families while providing a gateway to downtown."