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Volunteers help build all-inclusive, accessible playground at Tyler's Southside Park

More than 100 people gathered Saturday at Southside Park in Tyler to help build the city’s first all-inclusive, accessible playground.

“It’s been years in the making for this, so we’re really super excited about the project and super excited that you’re a part of it,” Tyler Area AMBUCS president and Southside Park project coordinator Amanda Storer told the morning volunteers.

Some $650,000 is funding the project, with half of that coming from private donations raised by Tyler Area AMBUCS and the other half coming from the city of Tyler through its Half-Cent Sales Tax program. Once complete, the playground, which will span about 14,000 square feet, will be accessible for people in wheelchairs and those who have difficulty walking.

Casey Weiss with Child’s Play Inc., the playground developer, said he does as many as five volunteer installations a year and never sees as many people as were waiting to help Saturday. Representatives from Child’s Play were on hand to direct the work.

Volunteers split into groups to work on swing sets, make and pour concrete, assemble fence-type structures and pick up trash.

Storer said more work would have to be done after the community build day with the grand opening set for late October.

The idea for the playground dates back to 2013, when Storer heard about it at a national conference for AMBUCS, which is a nonprofit charitable organization that exists to inspire mobility and independence.

She approached the city at the time to see if they had anything in the works and officials encouraged her to get something started. She did and through partnerships and community support the idea is becoming a reality.

Volunteers included AMBUCS members, college students and interested community members.

Hestela Rios, 37, of Bullard, was among a group of second-year physical therapy assistant students volunteering. Storer is the students’ instructor so they said they’ve been hearing about the project and wanted to be a part.

“The whole concept of the park is an amazing thing for the community,” Rios said.

Bethany Bell, 21, of Tyler, said, “It’s cool to just be a part of it. We can be helping hands.”

TWITTER: @Tylerpaper

Lee Greenwood performs at Tyler Pillars of Love dedication, community raises funds to end homelessness

Over 300 people, sporting their best patriotic attire, filled the area under the bridge at 215 W. Valentine St. in anticipation of Lee Greenwood’s performance during the Tyler Pillars of Love dedication and benefit concert.

Leading up to Greenwood’s performance, Congressman Louie Gohmert spoke to the crowd and presented Church Under the Bridge with an American flag that was flown over the White House in Washington, D.C.

“I can’t help but think that today God is smiling,” Gohmert said. “Because what we’re doing, right under these two bridges, we’re doing his favorite thing. We’re loving him and we’re loving each other. That’s as good as it gets.”

Tyler Pillars of Love and concert organizer Dr. Sasha Vukelja said she’s proud to be an American and to be part of the event.

“I was homeless at one time and I can relate to all these people,” she said.

Before his performance, Greenwood, as promised, autographed the American flag mural under the bridge, accompanying his signature with his famous lyric, “God Bless the USA.”

Greenwood also took photos with event organizers, sponsors and Tyler Pillars of Love artists.

Greater New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church Choir warmed up the audience with a performance of “Let it Shine,” among a few other songs.

The audience cheered, clapped and sang from their seats as Greenwood performed his set including “Wind Beneath My Wings” and his most famous ballad “God Bless the USA.”

The area under the bridge is a highly populated area where homeless people reside and hang out in the city of Tyler. Several ministries meet there as well.

The Tyler Pillars of Love and Lee Greenwood benefit concert were organized to raise funds to help eradicate homelessness in Tyler, according to event organizers.

To make a donation to help efforts to end homelessness in Tyler, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/helptylershomeless.

TWITTER: @Tylerpaper

Tyler to borrow $21 million for this year’s sewer system work

The city of Tyler will borrow about $21 million this year to pay for sewer system work required by the federal government.

The work will include rehabilitating manholes, inspecting sewer lines, replacing pipe, and starting the process of rerouting sewer lines if needed.

The bulk of the work so far has been happening in the downtown and northern parts of Tyler. Starting in 2020, the city has planned work in one basin in the northwestern part of the city and another between Loop 323 and West Grande Boulevard. Jimmie Johnson, the utilities director for the city of Tyler, said the upcoming year will be the fourth in a 10-year process. All the work is mandated by a 2017 settlement the city reached with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The characteristics of the sewer won’t change,” Johnson said. “It’s still sewer. However, some of the areas that may have been bottlenecked because the line is too small will no longer have those constraints.”

Johnson said he’s optimistic about the work. He said the city plans to manage its contracts better than it did in previous years. Last year, the city had seven separate contracts, he said. This year, the city plans to have a master contract governing the work.

“We are doing some of those construction projects now,” Johnson said. “When those (additional) construction projects are underway we’re gong to ask the citizens for their patience while we make those timely repairs.”

The Tyler City Council voted on Wednesday to issue $20,845,166 in bonds to pay for this year’s projects. The bonds will be paid back through revenue from the regulatory compliance fee on consumers’ water bills.

This won’t be the last bond package issued to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency settlement. From 2020 through 2025, the city is projecting to issue bond packages between $26 million and $32 million each year.

“We have pipes in the ground in our sewer system that are over 100 years old that zero reconstruction, fairly level maintenance has occurred in 100 years,” Mayor Martin Heines said of the current sewer system at the Wednesday meeting.

“And so those are the basins that we’re currently working in in this community to bring that to good quality standards,” Heines said. “So there is a culmination of 100 years worth of work that we are jumping into due to the EPA consent decree.”

Heines said the cost of the actual work has been lower than what has been budgeted. He asked Johnson if that could be expected in the future. Johnson said there are still too many unknowns.

Keidric Trimble, the chief financial officer, said the bonds will have a term of 30 years and an estimated interest rate of 3.15 percent. He said that could be higher or lower by the time the bonds are issued.

The City Council plans to vote to issue the bonds at a meeting Oct. 8.