Lemuel Randolph, Arlington’s new director of parks and recreation, arrived at his post in February just as discussion began to gain speed over a proposed new bond package that the City Council expects to act on in August.
If it is taken to the voters and wins their approval, the wish list of new parks and recreation projects could occupy Randolph’s time for years to come.
Last week the council talked about adding $46 million in additional projects to the original $192.5 million bond proposal recommended by an advisory committee.
Among the bond projects are two new recreation centers and a second dog park. There is also discussion of a new citywide senior recreation center and a multigenerational recreation center.
“It has been a fast-and-furious process,” said Randolph, who was director of parks, recreation and open spaces in McKinney for seven years before his move to Arlington, which came after longtime parks director Pete Jamieson retired.
Randolph’s McKinney résumé includes the opening of that city’s first dog park, hike and bike trails, a 30,000-square-foot skate park, and in a partnership with neighboring Plano, a 90,000-square-foot recreation center.
Now 48, the Arlington, Va., native seemed destined for an outdoor career when he began working at age 14 as a volunteer camp counselor. By 16 he had worked into a paid position.
“Before I knew I even had a career, I had started my career,” he said. “I just thought it was a fun summer job.”
Randolph holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in public administration. His 20 years of experience directing municipal parks and recreation departments includes stints in Missouri City, Sugar Land and San Bernardino, Calif.
While there are more challenges in a larger city like Arlington, Randolph said, he found “a lot of amenities that make this an outstanding parks system.”
Because of the bond visioning, Randolph had a chance to work early on with the parks and recreation board, the park bond committee and the city.
He has also been meeting as many of the department’s 180 permanent employees and more than 500 seasonal workers as possible.
“We have service gaps,” Randolph said of the challenges. “Both in facilities and in programs, our successes are not reflected in all sections of the city.”
For underserved east and southeast Arlington, projects included in the bond discussions are a new recreation/aquatics center and a combined recreation center/library branch.
Not much virgin land remains within the city limits, Randolph said, but there are plenty of opportunities for redevelopment and reinvesting in Arlington.
Of the department’s $25 million operating budget, $12 million is user-generated, Randolph said.
“That’s unusual,” he said. “We have not come across a parks and rec department that recoups half its operating budget through fees,” he said.
Another unique feature is special events: huge ones like Light Up Arlington and Eco Fest and smaller events like Food Truck Fridays.
“They require considerable manpower, but special events are really popular here,” Randolph said. “We’d love to expand our resources in that area.”
Randolph’s own leisure activities include exercising four to five times a week, bike riding, reading and travel. “I have a set of golf clubs, and I have played golf,” he said, “but I’m not a golfer.”
His wife, Mia, and their children Preston, 16; Evan, 14; and Michal, 11, will be relocating to Arlington from McKinney during the summer.
He hopes residents realize how crucial the Parks and Recreation Department is, even if some might consider it a luxury instead of an essential city service.
“There’s a book by Richard Louv called Last Child in the Woods that says, for the first time in history, a generation of children are being raised with virtually no contact with the outside world,” Randolph said.
Their isolation does not bode well for the future of outdoor spaces.
“Children who are not exposed to nature,” he said, “will not be able to advocate for nature.”