Lynne Hermansen
Three city parks were looked at for needed improvements during a budget policy presentation at the Tuesday June 21 Gardner City Council meeting.
Matt Wolff, finance director, presented the figures on Veterans Park, Stone Creek and Winwood Park as part of the 2023-2024 Budget Policy and said they hadn’t been updated in 20 years.
“If we want successful parks we need to use the General Fund,” he said.
Wolff said the General Fund balance was at 50 percent at the end of 2021 and would have a $900,000 surplus at the end of 2022.
“The sales tax shows us strong and healthy at $175,000-11.6 percent,” he said.
Wolff said each park would need approximately $300,000 to $325,000 to update them to meet current park needs and meet 2023 standards for residents.
Mark Baldwin, council president, said what was the lifetime on the three parks.
Jason Bruce, parks and rec director, said the industry standard was 20 years. They had worked backwards after looking at the three parks and the history of the playgrounds.
Kacy Deaton, council member, said the city should spend money on accessible ones that are most visited and not focus solely on the oldest ones because Winwood was difficult to access with no parking.
“Our hands are kind of tied,” she said. “It creates a large hazard if we don’t offer parking if it becomes the most popular park.”
Bruce said they wouldn’t know until they started diving in on the construction and each park is unique. Baldwin said if they allocate money for parks starting with the three oldest made sense.
Samantha Brandt, resident and parent of a disabled child, said during public comments that her daughter Macy is nonverbal with severe disabilities and it saddens her that her daughter can’t use the parks.
“As you can imagine I took my first daughter to parks all over the city, but unfortunately I am unable to take Macy,” she said. “Not one park is accessible. There is not one she can play at with her peers.”
Brandt said she was appalled the city hasn’t looked forward to make accessible parks and services to all residents.
“My daughter is unable to play with any of your children at any park,” she said. “We need to ask further questions. Choose parks because of coming of age not because of accessibility issues or many people play there or people visiting from other cities.”
Brandt said the city hadn’t looked at parking issues when choosing the three parks and there was no way her daughter could pull up to Winwood Park without parking.
“I can’t fathom a city doesn’t want to do something at this moment,” she said. “I walked Celebration with council member Baldwin. Why waiting until 2023? My daughter wants to go to a park and play and can’t.”
Brandt said the city needs to bring families together that live this life for their input before they put money into non-accessible parks.
Erik Van Potter, council member, said he heard Brandt’s grievances and he had had a severe disability for years.
“They are designed by people who never had to deal with disabilities they’re trying to accommodate for,” he said.
Steve Shute, council Vice-president, said the city had advocates in the past who would walk around town for the community.
“It gives a better perspective to navigating as disabled to make Gardner more inclusive,”he said. “We need to continue these conversations.”