Nearly 100 Paradise Hills residents came to a Wednesday-night meeting (January 11) about how to turn the Paradise Hills Elementary School lot into a part-time park.
Neighbors, parents and coaches from the Paradise Hills Pony Baseball League had a lot of questions and suggestions for the project that will, in the least, turn a 1.1-acre field into a place where people can play after school hours and before dusk.
Tino Escueda, who is a coach and boardmember for the kids' league, says the community desperately needs more baseball diamonds.
"There are 300 kids from 4 to 14 in our community and the military who are playing now," Escueda said. "Right now we're really crowded at Penn Field. We really need more diamonds."
The school district won't fund a Little League regulation backstop, city parks planner Shannon Scoggins said. But they can install the district's version, she added. The design could include an eight-foot wide, decomposed granite walking path around the big green acre.
"So we'll be walking around an area where kids are playing soccer?" one unidentified woman asked. "They're going to run into us if it's not separated."
What won't be there: restrooms.
"I have little kids and they have to go to the bathroom all the time," one mom said. "There really should be a restroom."
Scoggins replied that there isn't any money for a stand-alone restroom, and, "Most of the 77 joint-use parks and a lot of the city parks don't provide restrooms."
"Then you better put in some bushes," a man called out.
Scoggins explained that the schools had closed their playgrounds to public use because they were warned about liability if anyone gets injured. The city, she said, was assuming liability as well as maintenance and clean-up costs.
"That's what makes this work for us," she said. "It will serve people within a ten-minute walk; it is not a destination park."
School-board member Sharon Whitehurst-Payne attended the meeting and said she was delighted by the large community turnout. "No one can say this community doesn't care," she said.
The green space will have a grassy surface rather than artificial turf, Scoggins said.
"Synthetic has to be replaced every eight to ten years, and the city is unable to commit to replacing the turf when the time comes," she said.
With replacement costs factored in, natural grass and synthetic turf cost about the same. It hasn't been decided whether the paved half-acre playground with playground equipment will be open to the public, school officials said. The playing field won't have security lights because it will be locked up at dusk.
"Parks and Rec are going to be maintaining the area and making sure they're on the same page with the school about locking and unlocking the gates," Scoggin said. "The city has special funding for a security guard."
Dogs will be allowed as long as they're on leash, which disappointed some people there.
"Unfortunately this is a public park — we're not able to prohibit dogs," Scoggins said. "Owners have to keep them on leashes and will be required to pick up after their dogs and there will be a trash receptacle for the park that Parks and Rec will empty."
Most people want to see some onsite parking — particularly the residents along Westport and Altamont streets. And they worried that the challenges of living across the street from a school will increase as the playground hours expand.
"We get a lot of graffiti and trash," said Joe Mattingly. "And we'd like to see the school provide a modest amount of parking to take some stress off the nearby streets where we live."
The meeting was the first planning meeting with the community. City and school officials will now draw up a draft plan and bring it back to the community the first week of February.