Ten new amenities will be installed at Briscoe Park if the City is awarded a Local Parks Grant by Texas Parks & Wildlife (TPW).
The grant, which the Devine City Council voted to pursue 4-1 in a Special meeting on July 24, awards 50 percent matching funds up to a $500,000 total and is being written by longtime City grant writers Langford Community Management Services (LCMS). The application is due October 1, though results will not be announced until 2018.
Council members David Espinosa, Steve Lopez, David Valdez, and Kathy Wilkins voted in favor of seeking the grant, with Councilman Cory Thompson opposed.
A budget summary of the plan included the following additions and their cost: playground, $15,000; hike/bike trail, $15,000; splash pad, $200,000; pavilion, $100,000; one-half basketball court, $30,000; nature landscaping/xeriscaping, $15,000; picnic table/benches, $10,000; shade structures, $30,000; educational signage, $7,000; exercise stations, $30,000.
Engineering and surveying fees of $48,000 bring the total project cost to $500,000, the maximum amount of funding possible through the grant. With a 50/50 match, the City will only be responsible for $250,000.
According to Mayor Bill Herring, the City’s portion of the money will come from the general fund.
“If the costs go over $250,000, we’ll amend the budget,” Herring said.
Because the grant recipients won’t be announced until 2018, Herring said that a tentative line item for the money will be written into the Parks department in the 2017-2018 Fiscal Year budget.
If the City is not awarded the grant, no upgrades will be made to the park.
The improvements for the park were drawn from the City’s Master Park Plan, which was developed in conjunction with LCMS in 2012. Public meetings were held over the course of six months to develop community priorities, and a survey was sent out with City utility bills during the summer of 2012. The survey was also made available online.
A Public Hearing on the Master Park Plan was held August 21, 2012, to garner more input from City residents, and Council approved the final version in January 2013.
An amended version of the Master Park Plan approved 4-1 by Council, Thompson dissenting, at the July 24 meeting included the following facility priorities: playground, trails, splash pad, pavilion, basketball court, native landscaping/xeriscaping, picnic tables/benches, shade structures, educational signage, exercise stations, amphitheater, multi-purpose/open play fields, baseball/softball fields, community garden, and camping areas.
Approval to seek the grant got off to an inauspicious start. The issue was first raised publicly at a Public Hearing and Regular Council meeting on July 18, where a number of City residents turned out to question the grant’s overall cost and, more specifically, the splash pad.
Amy Cook, a representative from Vortex Aquatic Structures International, spoke about the positive opportunities a splash pad presents in a Regular meeting on July 18.
Cook used El Paso as an example, which has opened eight spray parks over the last year.
“We’re seeing the extended park hours of community members staying in the park, not going to other communities,” Cook said.
She added that families will stay from two to four hours, which means less travel and can mean more money spent in local stores and restaurants.
“You’re in a nice little pocket here where you have other small communities,” Cook said. “I can see this being a focal point to drive them here versus going to San Antonio.”
According to Cook, the City is considering a splash pad between 2,000 and 3,000 square feet, which can be designed to expand later if necessary.
As budgeted, the City’s splash pad would utilize a flow-through system, wherein potable water is cycled through the splash pad, and after use, the effluent water is drained back into the sewer system.
The City will be able to program hours of operation, and the splash pad only runs when activated on site, but Cook said she still expected “80 to 50 to 125 gallons” of water a minute to flow into the sewer system.
The flow rate of water can be adjusted.
Both a repurpose system, which filters and disinfects effluent water before it is reused for landscape irrigation, and a recirculation system, which filters and disinfects water to a greater degree in order to cycle it through the splash pad again, are more water efficient but also more expensive.
While most of the Edwards Aquifer region is currently in Stage 1 restrictions, Devine isn’t because it draws water from both the Edwards and Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifers. The City is able to meet the Edwards Aquifer Authority’s (EAA) mandatory 20 percent decrease in pumping by drawing more from the Carrizo Aquifer.
Herring said that if the EAA calls for Stage 2 restrictions, Devine will have to enter Stage 1, which would affect splash pad usage.
“We have to abide by pumping limits,” Herring said.
Thompson had a number of questions at the July 18 meeting, including about warranties and safety.
Cook explained that Vortex has its own installation crew, and that the company is, “start to finish, from design consulting, stamped engineer drawings, all the way to installation.”
The splash pad elements are stainless steel and lead-free brass.
“We use no plastics, PVC, or fiber glass,” Cook said. “It’s intended to be used, to be tugged on, to be played with, so there’s nothing of hazard in that sense.”
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The installation warranty is one year from completion date, and the elements have warranties of two, five, and 25 years.
“Our features are interchangeable, meaning that over time you can swap it out,” Cook said, adding that stainless steel elements can be stripped and refinished.
Cook said that Vortex splash pads are also ADA-compliant, and won’t be graded more than two percent, making them safely accessible for those in wheelchairs or using walkers.
“What is the age group that they’re aimed for?” Thompson asked. “I know there has to be a set age group, because what going to entertain a three or four or five year old’s not going to entertain a 13 year old.”
Cook said that the splash pads are designed to hit target audiences from toddlers to teenagers to families, and that elements designed for each group will be arranged to create “bays” for each.
“We like our tall, vertical elements in the center to be our family bay, meaning multiple users,” Cook said. “There’s cross-generational activity there.”
In the toddler bay, “you have elements that are age-appropriate in height, as well as [water] pressure and texture,” Cook said, “and then you have those high, gushing elements, the water cannons, anything with a lot of [water] pressure for the teens.”
Jennifer Schott was among the Devine residents at the July 18 meeting, and while she said she was in favor of improving the park, she was concerned about the expense.
“I feel like it would be safer to just wait until the next go-round [of the grant cycle],” Schott said.
Cook pointed out that there is no guarantee that grant money will be available.
“When oil was high, that’s the reason why Texas Parks & Wildlife has money, and this is the third year they’ve given out grants,” Cook said. “But there was almost a decade where they didn’t.”
“Perhaps that just a lesson for our town to learn from,” Schott said.
In the face of skepticism of those in attendance, Council voted 5-0 against seeking the grant.
As news of the decision spread, both Council members and City Hall received phone calls from Devine residents who were critical of the decision and wanted the bid for the grant to proceed. A Special meeting to revisit the issue was called for July 24, where Council ultimately voted to pursue the grant.
Thompson was the sole Council member to vote against seeking the grant at both meetings, and explained his rationale in a post on his political FaceBook page.
“I feel there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding cost, both in the construction and in the long term maintenance,” Thompson wrote, adding that he was also concerned that splash pads are a trend that could leave the City with an expensive amenity that is underused.
Thompson represents District 5, and wrote that older citizens could use a pool for exercises and swimming, and that residents with younger children could use it for swimming lessons.
Thompson wrote he hoped to be wrong about the splash pad and that it would prove to be a good thing for Devine for years to come, “But the alternative worries me so much I cannot in good faith to my district vote to move forward on a splash pad at this moment in time.”
In a January 24 post on his political Facebook page regarding his vision for public parks, Thompson specifically mentioned a splash pad as a long-term goal. On March 28, he also shared a post from the City of Floresville’s Facebook page that announced Floresville had received a $500,000 grant for a park project.
“Why didn’t we get a grant like this?” Thompson wrote on March 28. “Did our city even apply for it? Everything on this list we want! Everything on this list is needed in our community! I am so frustrated I don’t even know what to say, other than we must hold our elected officials accountable.”
Floresville was awarded the same $500,000 non-urban outdoor grant from TPW’s Local Parks Grant program that Devine is currently seeking.
By Marly Davis