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Park designation sparks talk of unfinished city projects

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Roswell City Councilor Jeanine Best talks about designating a new city park while the city has multiple projects that it is working on during Thursday’s city council meeting at the Roswell Convention Center. (Juno Ogle Photo)

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The Roswell City Council voted last week to designate land as a new city park, but not without discussion about accepting money from the Legislature and the amount of unfinished projects the city has in the works.

The council voted unanimously at its regular meeting Thursday night to designate the site of the old Chisum School, 2301 S. Virginia Ave., as a city park. The city received $400,000 from the Legislature this year to design and construct the park.

Jim Burress, director of special services, said about $300,000 of the funding would go toward infrastructure, grading and landscaping. The remaining $100,000 would be used to purchase playground equipment, trash cans and picnic tables.

But several councilors, although supportive of the park, still questioned whether or not the city should take money from the Legislature when there are multiple projects that are ongoing or other needs in the city.

“I believe that anytime you can do something for kids, that’s a great thing,” Councilor Juan Oropesa said. “However, I have a problem that there’s projects already on the books that we have not been able to finish.”

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“We have a real bad reputation of starting projects and going as far as our money will take us and then forgetting about the projects,” he said.

He cited several needs and projects, such as the lack of bathrooms at the Bert Murphy Family Splash Pad on East Second Street, the still empty site of the torn-down Yucca Center on South Richardson Avenue, and repairs needed at the tennis courts at Cahoon Park.

“I don’t believe we should as a council accept legislative money just for the sake of accepting money because it makes the Legislature look good or whatever,” he said.

Councilor George Peterson agreed, adding that he was concerned the Parks Department would not be able to maintain another park.

The council in September chose the park as one of its top five projects to submit to the Infrastructure Capital Improvements Plan for legislative funding, Councilor Margaret Kennard noted. She agreed a park is needed in the area but that other projects need funding as well.

She said councilors need to champion those projects, an idea also endorsed by Councilor Jacob Roebuck.

Ward 5 Councilor Barry Foster made a push for the park to be included on the ICIP list after making it a priority for his ward for several years. He attended the meeting virtually, but did not speak during the discussion.

He has said in the past that children in the neighborhood have to cross major streets to get a park.

“I wish that more councilors would champion more projects in this community,” Roebuck said. “We need to be champions for our neighborhoods, champions for our community. I think the councilors need to be bringing ideas and pushing them forward.”

Foster’s work on creating the park convinced at least one other councilor it was needed. Jeanine Best said the Legislature chose the park as a “feel good” project but said she believed Foster when he said children in the neighborhood need a park.

“I’ve been fighting this park the whole way, but, mindfully, Councilor Foster chose this area because he knows this area. He knows the children there need a park,” she said.

“Now me, coming from the ranch, I don’t mind a little dirt, a backstop and some rocks. That worked for me as a kid, but today’s kids don’t want that. They want swings, slides, whatever the case may be,” she said.

She agreed with Oropesa that the city has many unfinished projects but said the city staff does a good job “shoehorning” its projects where they need to be.

“I agree Yucca needs to be taken care of, but this is the hottest fire first,” she said.

Councilor Angela Moore, who also represents Ward 5, said at first she was against making the site a city park but changed her position after talking with residents in the area.

City Engineer Louis Najar said with the approval of the park, the Engineering and Parks departments will be seeking input from residents in the neighborhood regarding what the park will include. Flyers will be handed out and the city could conduct a public hearing on the site, he said.

“Let them give us ideas before we put the final plans into effect,” Najar said.

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