Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Apalachicola residents may soon see new playground equipment in local parks

Lafayette Park playground area
Photo from Google Earth

The reported unkept conditions and aging playground equipment at Lafayette and Battery Parks were topics of discussion at the Apalachicola Board of City Commissioners regular scheduled monthly meeting held last Tues, Feb. 3.  As a result residents with small children and visitors may soon see upgraded playground equipment installed in parks throughout the city.

Concerns over upkeep, safety and aging playground equipment at both parks were brought to the city commission attention at the meeting by two Apalachicola residents, Krystal Shuler Hernandez and Heather Henderson both mothers with small children.

Hernandez told commissioners that she along with Henderson and others that accompanied them to the meeting wanted “to see our parks get renovated”.

Battery Park playground area
Photo from Google Earth

“I’m a mother of a 2-year old and would love to see our parks upgraded, Lafayette Park has had some of the same equipment since I was a young child and I’m 30 now, some of that equipment is even gone. Battery Park is rusted and at the bottom of the slide is cracked and dangerous… if your kid has on shorts and slide down they can get snagged right there on the bottom”, said Hernandez.

“I actually got pictures… a mother took her child to Lafayette Park recently and there were a bunch of glass right around the play area. I myself... I didn’t take pictures in the past, but I found drug paraphernalia and other stuff that just don’t belong in a park.”

“I’m glad that the city and everybody’s working to beautify Main Street and everything… it looks great, but I would like to see that extend over to our parks. I feel that nice parks are essential to our community because there are already limited resources for our children”, Hernandez said.

Prior to the meeting city staff had already begun addressing the concerns raised in the initial complaint received from Beth Patterson concerning conditions at Lafayette Park.

“I’ll get with Deborah [city staffer] to issue a work order and add playgrounds to my project list as one to focus on this year”, wrote city administrator Betty Webb in a Jan. 20 email correspondence to Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson.

Hernandez acknowledged that work had started at both parks, said more were needed and thanked the commission, “I first want to start off by thanking ya’ll for putting the sand in both of the parks… I noticed that this morning and that looks really great”.

Henderson, the mother of a 3-year old girl told commissioners that she too had some serious concerns about her daughter’s safety.

“We had her birthday party here [Battery Park] last year and I spent an hour beforehand cleaning up beer bottles and beer caps and broken pieces of plastic”, said Henderson.  

Henderson went on to read from a safety manual governing the maintenance of public parks and spoke of her role as the program assistant for the University of Florida Family Nutrient Program.

During the bottom portion of the meeting agenda Johnson brought the subject of city parks back up, and asked city commissioners to consider declaring the old fire station located on Water Street surplus property for the purpose of selling it to fund the renovation of parks within the city.

“I've had people to ask if we would tear down the old fire station and put in public parking… I know we need parking downtown, but I believe we can get more value if we sell the property with the building still intact and obligated that money towards renovating the parks as suggested here tonight”, said Johnson.

“This is a way to meet our obligation to ensure the park system in Apalachicola is safe for the kids.  We don’t have the money and it’s certainly not in the budget and I just heard here tonight that FRDAP (Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program) hadn't funded any grants for a number of years, so this is a way we can readily fund the renovations”, Johnson said.

After ensuring that all city owned parks, playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts would be included in the proposed renovation, the commission moved and unanimously passed a motion authorizing staff to act upon the mayor’s request.

The last time Battery Park received undated playground equipment was in 1998 when a group of young mothers led by Karen Cox-Dennis spearheaded a massive fundraising drive that led to the purchase of the playground equipment that's currently there now.

However, during the last 5-years city officials did expend a combined total of $978,000 from grants and local tax dollars on recreational activities, park infrastructure and repairs, such as financial support for Dixie Youth baseball and softball teams travel expense to state championship games; signage and bench tops at the Justin Brice Griffin Skateboard Park; lighting repairs at the basketball court in Franklin Square Recreation Park on 6th Street; borders around the playground area in Battery Park; a backboard at the 14th Street tennis court and gazebo and lighting repairs at Lafayette Park.

The list also include the expense of operating the Youth Center located inside the old Apalachicola High School gymnasium, which is currently undergoing renovation through a private/public partnership, as well as the expense of operating two model and state highlighted Project Impact After-school and Summer Enrichment programs, one inside the main building at the Johnson Complex and the other at the ABC Charter School.