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City celebrates partnerships working toward inclusive park

Juno Ogle Photo Scooping shovels of dirt to celebrate the city's future inclusive park Friday at Cielo Grande Recreation Area are, from left, Rep. Phelps Anderson, DTS-Roswell; City Councilors Jason Perry, Barry Foster and Judy Stubbs; Mayor Dennis Kintigh; Jim Burress, city of Roswell special services director; former state Sen. Tim Jennings; state Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell; JaneAnn Oldrup, chair of the Roswell Parks and Recreation Commission; Barbara Gomez, Kiwanis Club president; Krista Smith, New Mexico Autism Society; Christina Angel, executive director of the New Mexico Autism Society; and Christopher Banks, president and chief executive officer of the Autism Society of America.

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Roswell’s future inclusive park is an example of what can be accomplished when different groups work together, several speakers said at a celebration Friday, but the fundraising won’t end because the estimated cost of the project has risen by almost a million dollars.

The city of Roswell conducted a “site celebration” for the park Friday afternoon at its planned location just south of the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center’s overflow parking lot in the Cielo Grande Recreation Area.

Among the speakers at the celebration was former state Sen. Tim Jennings, who along with his late wife Patty, were among the early proponents of creating a park for those with physical and mental disabilities. Jennings said Patty would be happy to see the park becoming reality.

Jennings said he met Patty and her daughter Courtney when she and other parents were advocating for children with special needs as young as 3 to attend school.

“Courtney has been a truly challenged individual that had a unique heart,” he said of his stepdaughter.

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What Patty and the six other women achieved, in changing the age children like theirs could go to school, was much like the efforts of the Kiwanis Club and New Mexico Autism Society in helping bring the inclusive park to reality, Jennings said.

“It’s what you can do when you get together and try,” he said.

The park will include playground equipment specially designed for physically disabled children, a sensory garden, water feature and an area for 2- to 5-year-olds surrounded by landscaping designed to act as a buffer from sound from the surrounding environment.

“This is going to be a unique facility for individuals who are challenged in many different ways,” Jennings said.

Christina Angel, executive director of the New Mexico Autism Society, said the organization will serve children from areas beyond Roswell.

“We already have families from Carlsbad calling us and Hobbs calling us and saying ‘When will this park be ready?’” she said.

Also joining the celebration was Christopher Banks, president and chief executive officer of the Autism Society of America. He said the project is a good example of public-private partnerships.

While the park is a city project, The Kiwanis Club and New Mexico Autism Society joined in 2019 to raise funds and advocate for the park.

State Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said the project took off when Jim Burress, the city’s director of special services, directed him to the park and the Autism Society when Nibert was looking for a project the local Kiwanis could support to celebrate the organization’s 100th anniversary this year.

The Kiwanis began working with their connections and helped secure funding, including a $1.4 million capital outlay appropriation. Gov. Michele Lujan Grisham and local legislators also contributed funding. The park was originally estimated to cost $1.5 million.

Nibert said City Engineer Louis Najar now estimates the construction costs at $2.3 million. He said he would like to see additional funding for the park on the Infrastructure Capital Improvements Plan list, which the Legislature uses to make capital outlay allocations.

“We want to complete it like we originally intended. We don’t want a half of a park, we want a whole park,” he said. Construction on the park is tentatively scheduled to start in January with completion expected in May.

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

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