Mayor Bill Bell has swimming pools and soccer fields on his mind, and he wants to have some talk about them.
“I want to raise a question. Start a discussion,” Bell said. “Community-wide.
“What really are the needs in terms of soccer fields? What are the needs in terms of pools and aquatic facilities?” he said. And who should pay for them, he added.
The mayor brought the subject up after hearing the Recreation Advisory Commission’s annual report during last week’s City Council work session.
“You guys came at the right time because I was trying to figure out what time I was going to do this,” he said.
At Coffee With Council public meetings on next year’s city budget, “there was a real request for soccer fields,” Bell said. “We’ve also been getting requests relative to pools, and I don’t have to tell you about the situation of our pools.”
He was referring to a recent consultant’s report that the city’s public pools and spraygrounds need about $2.2 million worth of maintenance and repair, besides the as-yet undetermined cost to get the Long Meadow Park pool in condition to open again.
Bell said the requests and concerns he’s heard about recreation facilities “a lot of them, are really valid. ... The need is there.”
Councilman Steve Schewel, who coaches soccer and has been an advocate for more and better-kept playing fields in Durham, said he had been told that as many as 600 players and spectators turn out for Hispanic leagues’ weekend games at Twin Lakes Park – which is currently closed for renovations – and that other local teams “are scraping to try to find fields.”
Council members gave high rankings to a multi-field athletic complex and an aquatic center when they picked priorities among 10 big-ticket capital projects as part of the 2015-16 budget process earlier this year. The projects have been on to-do lists for one or more city departments for some time but had never been scheduled or funded.
Those two, with estimated costs of up to $15 million and up to $25 million respectively, were in third and fourth place in the council’s combined rankings – after sidewalk construction and infrastructure to serve planned light-rail stations.
The parks department is asking for money next year to prepare an aquatics master plan “that will help give direction,” said Rhonda Parker, the city’s parks and recreation director.
Schewel said he has also been hearing “a lot” from residents who want money for more pedestrian/bicycle trails.
“So I agree,” he said, “we really need to talk about how to fund (recreation facilities).”
Bell said decisions on what to add, and how to maintain whatever is built, need to come from the public “because we aren’t going to do it with the budget process we’ve got.
“It’s going to take a bond referendum, and if you’re going to have a bond referendum you’ve got to have buy-in from the community because they are the ones that are going to be supporting it,” Bell said.
“It might not be this year, I don’t know when,” he said. “But we need to ... give some very, very serious thought to how we can go about providing the facilities that we are hearing are needed, and where they would be.
“So let’s start having the conversation.”
Vote a park
Durham residents have two days left to choose which of three city parks gets a $20,000 makeover.
The National Recreation and Park Association invited Durham, along with 14 other U.S. cities, to apply for a Parks Build Community grant. A grant was awarded in March, to support a particular renovation project out of three the city had submitted to the competition.
The competition is settled by online voting at nando.com/17c. You may vote once a day through April. The project with the most votes wins the makeover. Durham’s projects proposals are:
▪ Trail improvements and installation of some new playground features at Holt School Road Park.
▪ Substantial upgrades to the two basketball courts and assistance in creating a community garden at Red Maple Park.
▪ Turning a former sewage-treatment building at Sandy Creek Park into a into a bouldering and climbing wall.