Tyler’s parks could see more than $3.5 million in improvements in the coming fiscal year if the City Council approves the city manager’s proposed budget.
The money would be used to fund improvements at Gassaway, Fun Forest, Woldert, Southside, Lindsey, Faulkner, Noble E. Young, and Hillside parks.
The money is budgeted to come from the city’s Half-Cent Sales Tax Fund, the parks department’s capital funds, and the parks department’s operating budget.
The City Council will hold public hearings on the fiscal year 2019 budget this month before voting on a final budget Sept. 12. Fiscal year 2019 will start Oct. 1 and run through Sept. 30, 2019.
Russ Jackson, the city’s parks and recreation director, said the department also will be looking for private donations to help offset the cost of the parks projects in fiscal year 2019.
The biggest transformation is being eyed for Fun Forest Park, which is home to an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a small splash pad.
The department is looking to spend $560,000 to replace the splash pad and get started on work that eventually would replace the pool, add a children’s pool, and add playground equipment.
An early design concept looks at adding a lazy river. Jackson said that could cost $1.5 million and would only be possible if the city received substantial philanthropy to help fund it. Another feature being discussed is a concession stand.
Jackson said the Olympic-sized pool at Fun Forest was built in the 1930s and there are leakage issues. He said it would cost about $600,000 to upgrade the pool, and the city can build a smaller pool cheaper than that.
He said the city could demolish the sides of the existing pool and build a new one within its shell. The new pool could have beach-style entry to make it accessible for people with disabilities, he said.
The city also could enhance the splash pad and add water slides on a sloped area of the land, Jackson said. He said it would be too expensive to build steep water slides with scaffolding, but the city could build one with a smaller slope.
“One thing would be a dream sheet but it’s going to take people to do donations—it’s probably about a million and a half to build a lazy river,” Jackson said. “It’s (an) extreme concept but we’re not going to see a volume of money going into it until we get some donations.”
The park also has a lot of open space with several baseball fields that aren’t always used, Jackson said. He said a long-term plan could include converting some of the space to a soccer field. Another idea is a “dino dig” that allows children to dig around and pretend to be archaeologists.
Fun Forest is considered a regional park, according to Jackson. That means the park is large and meant to serve a large number of neighborhoods in Tyler. And, he said, Tyler residents would have to drive to Dallas or Houston to access some of the features being considered during an upgrade.
“The thought is, if we have private partnerships that want to do some things, it would bring something to our children and to our community, and then you don’t have to take the drive,” Jackson said.
At Woldert Park, the budget proposes $892,500 to replace the pool, replace the bathrooms and changing area, upgrade the splash pad, repurpose the pavilion, and add new lighting. The money would come from the Half-Cent Sales Tax Fund.
Jackson said the current splash pad at Woldert is 30 feet by 30 feet and he wants to make it bigger. He said the idea is to make Woldert a park with a more open design where people can come and go, similar to Faulkner.
The proposed budget looks at putting another $1.2 million into expanding the playground at Southside Park and making it accessible for people with disabilities. The money would come from the Half-Cent Sales Tax Fund and pending donation funds, according to Jackson.
The budget proposes $300,000 to upgrade the bathroom, add a concession stand, and add new lighting at Lindsey Park. Another $200,000 would go to parking and sewer upgrades.
Jackson said the parking lot at Lindsey Park fits about 650 cars, but he can add hundreds more parking spaces by taking out some landscaping features in the parking lot and re-painting the stripes.
The city recently used the Lindsey Park lot to have people park during Fourth of July celebrations. That night, the city doubled the amount of cars it could hold, according to Jackson.
Noble E. Young Park, a neighborhood park meant to serve surrounding neighborhoods, has $200,000 set aside in the proposed budget. Jackson said the department wants to demolish the skate park and relocate it to Faulkner. The city also is looking at upgrading the bathrooms.
Jackson said the skate park is deteriorating and the city has received safety complaints. He said since the park needs to be demolished, it makes more sense to move it to Faulkner, which is a regional park that serves more people.
“We want to demo that and relocate a new one out into Faulkner Park,” Jackson said. “We need to bring back the community aspect; no one in the community when we canvass uses (Noble E. Young) for the skate park.”
Faulkner Park has another $50,000 set aside in the proposed budget for refurbishing existing tennis courts. That money would come from the park department’s capital budget.
Gassaway Park, a little-known neighborhood park in the northwestern area of the city, has $100,000 set aside for the first phase of its renovations. The city has received a $20,000 Lowe's Community Grant to offset some of those costs.
By the end of the year, city is planning to turn a portion of that park into a tree farm and install a small playground and half-court basketball court in another portion of the park. Jackson said more upgrades would be made over time.
“I’m excited about the Gassaway project,” Jackson said. “This one’s going to be a neat park.” He said he’s looking at using solar-powered lights to improve lighting in the park.
A repurposing project at Hillside Park is already under construction. The budget proposes using $50,000 in capital funds from the parks department budget for repurposing the entire park.
The city cleared the land at Hillside Park in the spring and it has been sitting vacant for several months. Workers were out on Tuesday doing excavation work, and they will be pouring concrete this week, according to Jenny Wells, a city spokeswoman.
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