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Committee considers future of closed rocket slide at zoo

Pictured is the closed rocket slide at Spring River Park & Zoo that the city of Roswell’s Parks and Recreation Department plans to take down this winter. Councilor Jacob Roebuck presented replacement options and future use plan for the rocket at Wednesday’s General Services Committee meeting. (Alison Penn Photo)

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Rocket’s proposed trajectory is to be repurposed into a downtown sign

The Roswell City Council’s General Services Committee discussed the future use and replacement of the now-closed rocket slide at Spring River Park & Zoo.

This graphic shows one of the play equipment options that could replace the closed rocket slide at Spring River Park & Zoo that will potentially be taken down this winter. According to the quote documents in the General Services’ agenda, the price for the play equipment is estimated to be around $85,000. (Graphic courtesy of the City of Roswell)

No formal action was taken on the matter and the Parks and Recreation Commission also discussed the item at their Oct. 15 meeting. Councilors Juan Oropesa, Savino Sanchez, Jacob Roebuck and Angela Moore discussed the various options among themselves and with city staff on Wednesday. The rocket replacement proposal was listed on the meeting’s September agenda, but the meeting was canceled because there was no quorum, meaning not enough councilors to vote for the items.

Jim Burress, the city’s parks and recreation director, said the rocket is estimated to be over 50 years old and a rare, Cold War-inspired piece of play equipment built during the Space Age beginning in 1957. Burress explained the rocket is now out of code for play equipment and a safety hazard, which is why the structure is shut down currently and will be taken down this coming winter. Replacing the structure has been a priority for the Parks Department because Burress said he has requested for the project to be included in the city’s budget for two years.

“You’ll see the kids get out of the car and they run straight to it and they find out they can’t get in it,” Burress said of the rocket slide. “If you’re there and you see that, it will break your heart because it is just sad to watch them happy and then all of the sudden you crush them.”

“We want to inspire kids like the old rocket has inspired kids for decades — we need a fixture that will inspire kids for the coming decades,” Roebuck said. “So it’s a significant investment in those young minds and those young hearts.”

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This illustration is artist Josh Berry’s idea for renovating the rocket slide into a sign for downtown Roswell. (Graphic courtesy of Josh Berry)

Councilor Jacob Roebuck said about 12 of such pieces are still in existence in the country and reminded the committee that the rocket is the last remaining part of Peppermint Park, the former name of the park adjacent to the Spring River Zoo. Roebuck presented a plan with a one-minute short film showing historic rocket footage and then a young child wearing a helmet in the Spring River Zoo’s rocket.

After the film, Roebuck shared a PowerPoint presentation with a four-step replacement plan for the rocket. He said because it has a “legacy in the community” and it is worth “giving it a new life.”

• Roebuck said a budget amendment would be needed for $85,000 from the General Fund that will pay for the new rocket-themed playground area.

• Robuck said $30,000 from lodgers’ tax would cover the cost of converting the rocket to a “Welcome to downtown” sign modernizing the rocket with LED lights and turning the rocket slide that many locals played on into a landmark.

• After those two steps, Roebuck said a rocket farewell event should be hosted for the public before it is taken down. He said he wanted the rocket closure to be handled in a better way and used the closure of the Cahoon Pool as an example of what should not be done.

• The final step would be to decide on the rocket’s new location after approximately one year is dedicated to converting it into a sign, Roebuck said.

Saying the rocket needs a “worthy successor,” Roebuck’s idea is to work with a local metal artist named Josh Berry to refurbish the rocket to be repurposed as a sign for the downtown area to provide photo opportunities for tourists and preserve some of Roswell’s history. City Manager Joe Neeb wanted to make it clear that the rocket would be turned into artwork and new equipment would be erected at the zoo in the proposal. For possible locations, Roebuck listed near Second Street and Railroad Avenue, at the UFO Museum’s park on the corner of Second and Main Street, the southern part of Pioneer Plaza near City Hall and the Chaves County Courthouse, or near the Burt Murphy Family Splash Pad.

JaneAnn Oldrup, Parks and Recreation commission’s chair, said the commission was in favor of keeping the rocket at the zoo and if it was moved from the zoo, they approved of Roebuck’s idea of creating a plaque with the history of the rocket that would also market the zoo to tourists. Oldrup said the Second and Main streets suggestion made the most sense to the commission.

After asking why the rocket was being taken down and offering a solution, Councilor Savino Sanchez said there are many projects in the city and would like to see some follow-through in completing them, though he said he was not opposed to new equipment for the park. Councilor Juan Oropesa said he was against removing the rocket from the zoo and wondered if it was being taken down out of fear and also compared it to Cahoon Pool that he said was closed “out of fear.”

Burress said the rocket was closed at the end of last summer because the decking is rusted, walls of the tubing of the ladders are broken, children’s heads can fit through the bars, the rods that shape the rocket do not comply with current codes and the metal slide is out of date. Councilor Oropesa asked why the rocket could not be brought up to code and voiced approval of moving the rocket from the zoo. In response to Oropesa, Burress said he was worried about the city absorbing the liability of working on the rocket and the cost associated with a full restoration. Roebuck said another city did a similar renovation to a rocket that cost over $1 million.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the city’s director of administrative services, said the consultant included a recommendation in the zoo master plan to remove the rocket from being play equipment for safety reasons and she added the boot or shoe play structure was also removed because of the age and change in play equipment requirements since the ‘50s.

Finance Director Monica Garcia, Neeb, city staff and the councilors brought up the city’s finances when considering the plan. Roebuck and Sanchez agreed that projects like the rocket and the incomplete netting at the Girls’ Softball Complex should have been budgeted already instead of waiting for immediate needs.

“Peppermint Park has a deep connection to a lot of our citizens who grew up there, who played there, who played on this rocket,” Roebuck said. “And really, like that picture of that kid who climbed up in that rocket — and was dreaming about the future and dreaming about space travel — the children of tens of thousands of our citizens are tied to this rocket. You talk to almost anybody who grew up here and then you have memories of playing on this rocket. It’s a very, very special piece of playground equipment — more than a swing or a slide or a tower because of what it embodies.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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