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Despite objections, play stations get installed

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

(Editor's note: This story was written prior to the completed installation of the educational equipment the weekend of July 20. Thank you, Brandi Morgan, for your hard work and unflagging dedication!)

Mayor Don Clark was determined to thwart rumors that he was stonewalling installation of approved play stations in Bandera City Park.

In a public statement during a special meeting on Tuesday, July 16, Clark said, "We're not stopping action on the park. The equipment has already been purchased. We want to stay focused and move forward, but we need to clarify a few things."

Concerns focused primarily on whether the city had executed a contract for purchase of the equipment and if council had approved a park plan showing the location for the equipment's installation.

Location, location, location

According to City Administrator Mike Cardenas, a purchase order made out to AAA State of Play served as the contract between the company and the municipality. "We never had a contract just a quote from the company given to the city, which kept the cost under $30,000, which we did," Cardenas said.

Additionally, Councilman Brandi Morgan, who spearheaded the project, produced a plan showing the locations of the stand-alone play stations. However, it was noted that council had never formally approved the locations by a vote.

"Do we need to decide on the location?" Clark asked.

Councilman Maggie Schumacher pointed out that council voted to allow Cardenas to move a cable fence to accommodate the equipment. Councilman Binky Archer said the individual play stations were to be placed along a walking and jogging trail. She also explained that the EDC is working on a large playground, which is separate from Morgan's project.

"At this point, we have no approved plan," Clark noted. "Where do we want to go now?"

Men on their way

Morgan said that two employees of AAA State of Play, who had constructed over 900 playgrounds throughout Texas, were driving from Indianapolis, Indiana, to supervise the installation of the equipment on Saturday, July 20. "I've recruited 10 volunteers to assist with the installation, which saves the city $7,000. Who would argue with that?" Morgan asked. She added that the men were hauling two play stations to save the city delivery fees.

"The original idea was to have volunteers help install the pieces," Morgan said. "It was discussed that using volunteers and paying two AAA employees instead of seven would enable us to purchase more stations."

According to Cardenas, because the company is supervising the installation, all warranties and guarantees on the equipment would be honored.

"What do we need to do now, approve the park plan?" Clark asked.

Morgan said that because the Boys & Girls Club is no longer available to small children - just those ages 12 years through 18 - two of the pieces slated for that area were moved to the front of the park.

"This will give closer access to restrooms and picnic tables and offer more convenient parking and visibility," Morgan explained. "There won't be so many pieces in the back of the park, which will make it easier to patrol and less likely to have graffiti."

Delay demanded

When asked if the remaining pieces would "interfere" with the jogging-hiking trail, Morgan said only three sections would be placed along the trail. "We'll have to wait until the next budget to decide to fund the trail. We were told that using mulch would be inadequate and that crushed red granite as a base is very expensive," she added.

Despite reassurances, the controversy continued as several stakeholders requested that the installation to be delayed for 30 days or until park consultant Paul Barwick, recently hired by the Bandera EDC, could revamp the 2002 park master plan.

Johnny Boyle, president of the Bandera Economic Development Corporation, asked Barwick to prioritize this phase of his plan, saying, "The locations must fit in with the overall plan. This should be done in a comprehensive manner."

Boyle also expressed concern that the installation sites be prepared properly.

Event coordinator Genie Strickland did not want the playground equipment to interfere with electrical outlets and the Christmas light display. "Given the amount of money that has been put into the project, pre-planning would avoid disasters," she said. "I would like to know what happens beforehand."

For his part, Barwick suggested "... taking a step back to not step on future plans." He recommended working on Morgan's project as a first phase of the park master plan, making sure everything was in compliance with state and federal regulations.

"We don't want to do anything that we will have to take out and move. Let's have a 30-day pause and figure out where these things should go," Barwick said. He enumerated a "laundry list" of factors to take into consideration, including neighbors, floods, safety patrols, vandalism, soils and drainage, among others.

He advised looking at the project from a larger perspective and seeking "another round of public input and doing more background work."

Four-day priority?

Referencing the fact that the project has been on the boards for two years, Morgan commented, "I don't see how this became a priority within four days of the equipment's installation."

She continued, "Everything is ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compatible, 90 yards of mulch is going to be delivered tomorrow and the volunteers are ready to go on Saturday. With summer ending and my teaching responsibilities, I can't guarantee (the volunteers) or I will be available to do this in 30 days," she said.

Morgan added that the supervisors from AAA State of Play would confirm that the installation complied with ADA requirements and that the mulch, landscaping timbers and concrete were ADA compliant. "The play stations are also accessible to anyone with a disability," Morgan said.

Supporting Barwick, Tony Battle, who has resurfaced as chairman of the Bandera Planning and Zoning Commission, said, "We should be careful and mindful of the master plan for the park and city. You might be putting the cart before the horse." Battle indicated that since a professional planner had been hired, it might not be an inconvenience to wait a few weeks, lose some money and "...put more thought into this thing. P&Z wants to be more involved. You should put this into the hands of a professional and not have to backtrack."

Battle had served as vice chairman of the P&Z, but resigned in 2009 during a debate about Steve Ball's application for a special use permit to construct a boutique hotel at 1007 Hackberry Street.

Just get it done!

EDC Director Lynn Palmer said, "Brandi's worked a couple of years to get this project going. I'm hopeful this can be expedited and installed on Friday." Noting that Barwick "came in after the fact," she advised him to "work with that and go forward."

Former Councilman Nancy Montgomery also supported moving forward with the project and installing the equipment as soon as possible. "We voted on this over a year ago," she said.

Councilman Maggie Schumacher said, "We started planning this last year and the plans have been available at the municipal building all this time. We voted on different aspects of the project and the city engineer did site inspections. The former council approved this project three times and the current council also approved it three times. I hope we can arrive at a compromise so all this work was not done for naught."

She added that only last week, council had approvedthe EDC's hiring of Barwick with the stipulation that his hiring did not interfere with the current project.

After the debate concluded, council unanimously approved going forward with the installation of the play stations on Saturday, July 20. In the meantime, Boyle, Barwick, Cardenas, Morgan and Strickland would meet with supervisors from AAA Station of Play on Friday to determine if the sites selected for the play stations were adequate.

However, as one long time city watcher commented after the meeting, "You would have thought they were going to install the Iron Rattler in City Park instead of some plastic play equipment for pre-schoolers."